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Ft. Leavenworth, KS 









This pamphlet supersedes MS tP-051 "Airborne Operations: A German Appraisal," 
published by the Office of the Chief of Military History, Special Staff, U. S. Army, in 

August 1950. 


A German Appraisal 


OnOIIEI t951 

Washington 25, D. C, 5 October 1951 
Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 20-232 is published for the 
information and guidance of all concerned. 

[AG 373.2 (5 Sep 61)] 

By oedek op the Secretary of the Army : 


WM. E. BERGIN Chief of Staff, United States Army 

Major GenercA, USA 
The Adjutant Gemral 

Distribution : 

GSUSA (5) ; SSUSA (5) ; Tech Svc (25) ; Bd (10) ; AFF (25) ; 

OS Maj Comd (50) ; A (10) ; CHQ (10) ; D 71 (8) ; R 71 (3) ; 

Bn 71 (4) ; FC (5) ; PMS & T (1) ; MAAG (2) ; SPECIAL 

For explanation of distribution, see SR 310-90-1, 

Facsimile Edition 

Center of Military History 
United States Army 
Washington, D.C., 1982 



This pamphlet was written for the Historical Division, EUCOM, 
by a committee of former German officers. It follows an outline 
prepared by the Office of the Chief of Military History, Special Staff, 
United States Army, which is given below : 

1. ffli A review of German airborne experience in World War II. 
h. An appraisal of German successes and failures. 

€. Reasons for the apparent abandonment of large-scale German 
airborne operations after the Crete operation. 

2. a. German experience in opposing Allied and Russian airborne 


&. An appraisal of the effectiveness of these operations. 

3. The probable future of airborne operations. 

It is believed that the contributors to this study (listed on page iv) 
represent a valid cross-section of expert German opinion on airborne 
operations. Since the contributors include Luftwaffe and Army 
officers at various levels of command, some divergences of opinion are 
inevitable; these have been listed and, wherever possible, evaluated by 
the principal German author. However, the opinions of General- 
feld-marschall Albert Kesseilring are given separately and without 
comment wherever they occur in the course of the presentation. 

The reader is reminded that publications of the GERMAN RE- 
PORT SERIES were written by Germans and from the German 
point of view. Organization, equipment, and procedures of the Ger- 
man Army and Luftwaffe differ considerably from those of the United 
States armed forces. 

This study is concerned only with the landing of airborne fighting 
forces in an area occupied or controlled by an enemy and with the 
subsequent tactical commitment of those forces in conventional ground 
combat. The employment of airborne units in commando operations, 
or in the supply and reinforcement of partisans and insurgents, is not 
included in this study, nor is the shifting of forces by troop-carrier 
aircraft in the rear of the combat zone. Such movements, which 
attained large size and great strategic importance during World War 
II, should not be confused with tactical airborne operations. 



Cteneralmajor (Brigadier General) Hellmtitli Beinhardt, committee chairman 
and principal author, was Deputy Chief, General Army Ofttce, 1941-43, and 
later Chief of Staff, Eighth Army, on the southern front in the Ulsraine and 

Oontributora on German airborne operations: 

Generalleutnant (Major General) Werner Bhrig, operations oflScer of the 22d 
(Army Air Landing)' Division during the attaels on Holland. 

Oberst (Colonel) Frelherr von der Heydte, an outstanding field commander of 
German parachute troops, author of the "Appendix." 

Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Albert KesSelring, commander of the 
German Second Air Force during the Netherlands campaigQ, and later Com- 
mander in Chief, Southwest. 

General der Fallschirmtrupi)en (IJentenant General) Eugen Melndl, regimental 
commander during the attack on Crete, later airborne division and corps 

Generalleutnant (Major General) Max Pemsel, Chief of Staff, XVIII Corps, 
which included the ground forces committed in the attacli on Crete. 

Generaloberst (General) Kurt Student, the chief of German parachute troops 
during the entire war. 

Contributors on Allied airborne operations, and on German defense measures 
against them: 

General der Infanterle (Lieutenant General) Guenther Blumentritt, Chief of 
Staff, OB West. 

Oberst (Colonel) Albert Emmerich, G-3, German First Army. 

General der Flakartillerie (Lieutenant General) August Schmidt, In 1944 com- 
mander of Luftgav, VI, which provided the mobile troops to combat Allied 
airborne landings at Nijmegen and Arnhem. 

General der Kavallerie (Lieutenant General) Siegfried Westphal, the chief of 
staff of OB Southwest in Sicily and Italy, and later of OB West. 

Oberst ( Colonel) SYltz Ziegelmann, G-^, S52d Infantry Division. 



I concur completely with the ideas of the principal author of this 
study, which are presented on the basis of his collaboration with the 
most experienced German specialists. 

In view of the present state of technical development, I place a con- 
siderably higher estimate on the opportunities for airborne operations 
in a war between military powers than does the principal author. 
The latter considers that the essential conditions for the successful use 
of airborne operaSohfr^veii on a large scale — exist only in close 
co-operation with the operations of ground troops. 

Assuming that there are sufficiently strong air forces and air trans^ ] 

port facilities, I believe that in the future airborne landings by large 

bodies of troops (several divisions under unified command) can also I 
be used for independent missions, that is, for such military operations i 
as are not closely related in place and time with other ground actions, i 
but are only bound to the latter by the general connections existing 
between all military operations in a theater of war. It is precisely 
along these lines that I envisage the future development of airborne 
warfare. I am convinced that with the proper preparation and 
present-day technical facilities it is possible to form new military bases 
by means of large-scale airborne landings far in the enemy's hinter- 
land, in areas where he expects no threat from ground troops and from 
which independent military operations of large scope can be under- 
taken. To supply by air such large-scale airheads for the necessary 
time is essentially a technical problem which can be solved. The 
independent commitment of large airborne forces seems to offer a 
present-day high command an effective means for suddenly and de- 
cisively confusing the enemy's system of warfare. 

Future wars will not be confined to the customary military fronts 
and combat areas. The battle fronts of opposing ideologies (resist- 
ance movements, revolutionary partisan organizations. Irredentist 
elements), which today in an age of dying nationalism cut through 
all great powers and civilized nations, will be able to create favorable 
conditions for largfr-scal© airborne landings deep in the enemy's 
country and for maintaining such bases of operation as have been won 
by airborne operations in the interior of the enemy's sovereign terri- 
tory. To prepare the people in these territories in time and to make 
them useful in war will be the task of these forces, under a unified 
command, to which the language of our time has given the name of 
the "Fifth Column." 

•By Gen. Franz Haider, Chief of Staff of the German Army, 193S-42. 





Section I. Principles of Employment 2 

//. Airborne Tactics ; 10 

Parachute Troops 12 

IV. Air-Transported Troops 16 

V. Troop-Carrier Units 16 

VI. Reasons for Success and Failure 17 

VII. German Air Landings after Crete 21 


Section I. Passive Defense Measures 26 

//. The German Warning System 27 

///. Counterattack in the Air _ 29 

IV. Antiaircraft Defense Fire 29 

V. Counterattack on the Ground 30 

VI. Counterlanding into the Enemy Airhead 32 

VII. An Appraisal of Allied Air Landings 33 

VIII. Reflections on the Absence of Russian Air Landings 36 


Section I. Evaluation of Past Airborne Experience 39 

II. Limitations of Airborne Operations 40 

///. Advantages of Airborne Operations 42 

IV. Requirements for Success 43 

V. Antiairborne Defense 44 

VI. Future Possibilities 44 


Section I. Equipment of German Parachute Troops 46 

II. German Employment of Troop-Carrier Units 47 

///. Technique and Tactics of Airborne Operations , 49 


This pamphlet supersedes MS #P-051 "Airborne Operations: A German Ap- 
praisal," published by the Offlce of the Chief of Military History, Special Staff, 
U. 8. Army, in August 1950. 



The Germans carried out airborne operations on a large scale only 
i wice in World War II : once in May 1940 in Holland, and again in 
May 1941 in connection with the occupation of Crete. Accordingly, 
German experiences are based in the main upon these two operations 
which took place during the first years of the war and which con- 
stituted the first large-scale airborne operations in the history of war- 
fare. Although there were no other major airborne operations 
launched by the Germans, the German command, and in particular 
the parachute uiiits which continued to be further improved during 
the course of the war, seriously concerned themselves with this prob- 
lem. Two other cases are known in which plans and preparations 
for large-scale airborne operations progressed very far, namely, the 
intended commitment of parachute troops as part of the landing in 
England (Operation SEELOEWE) in 1940, and the preparations for 
the capture of the island of Malta in 1942. Neither of these plans 
was carried out. 

Airborne operations on a smaller scale were carried out against 
the Greek island of Leros in 1943 and during the Ardennes offensive 
in 1944. The experiences of minor operations such as these, as well as 
the trials, tests, and research done by the airborne troops during the 
war, are also discussed in this study. * 

The problems encountered in German airborne operations have 
been divided into three categories : 

1. Planning airborne operations from the point of view of the 
higher command, designation of objectives for air landings, and 
co-operation with ground troops, the Luftwaffe, and the naval forces ; 

2. Actual execution of an airborne operation: the technique and 
tactics of landing troops from the air ; and 

3. Organization, equipment, and training. 

In addition, a number of specific points and recommendations have 
been attached in the form of an appendix contributed by Col. J^eiherr 
von der Heydte, who may be regarded as the most experienced field 
commander of German airborne troops. 

In every air landing there are two separate phases. First, a strip 
of terrain must be captured from the air ; that is, an "airhead" must 




be established. This airhead may, or may not, include the objective. 
Second, the objective of the air landing must either be captured or 
held in ground battle. The second phase is similar in nature to con- 
ventional ground combat, if we disregard the method used to transport 
the troops and the factors of strength and supply which are influenced 
by the circumstances that all communication is by air. The first 
phase, however, has new and unique characteristics. Troops com- 
mitted during the first phase require special equipment and special 
training. In limited engagements such troops can also carry out the 
missions connected with the second phase. For large-scale operations 
regular ground troops will have to be used in addition to special units. 
These ground troops need equipment modified to fit the conditions of 
air transportation. 

In recognition of these factors the Wehrmacht (German Armed 
Forces) had taken two steps even before the war. In the 7th Airborne 
Division of the Luftwaffe, a unit had been created whose mission 
it was to capture terrain by parachute jumps and landing troop-car- 
rying gliders. An Army unit, the 22d Infantry Division, had been 
outfitted for transport by air and given the designation of "Air Land- 
ing Division." 

Both of these units were committed during the first great air-land- 
ing attack in Holland in 1940, at which time the 22d Infantry Divi- 
sion had to be reinforced by elements of the 7th Airborne Division 
to capture the initial airhead. On the other hand, smaller missions, 
such as that to capture Fort Eben Emael, were accomplished by troops 
of the 7th Airborne Division without assistance from other units. 
During the attack on Crete a year later, it was impossible for the 
airborne troops to achieve a victory alone. It was only when Army 
units transported by air had arrived that progress was made toward 
capturing the island. Since it had not been possible to transport the 
22d Infantry Division to Greece in time, the 5th Mountain Division, 
already in Greece, had to be employed, a measure which proved very 
successful. Preparations lasting approximately one month were suffi- 
cient to prepare the division for the new assignment. The special 
equipment of the mountain troops was suited both for transport by 
air and for commitment in the mountainous terrain of the island. 


The airborne operations undertaken by the Germans during World 
War II may be classified in two groups, according to their purpose. 
In the first group, the attack took the form of sending an advance 
force by air to take important terrain features, pass obstacles, and 
hold the captured points until the attacking ground forces arrived. 
This operation was aimed at a rigidly limited objective within the 



framework of a ground operation which was in itself essentially 
limited. This was the case in the airborne operation ih Holland in 
1940 and, on a smaller scale, at Corinth in 1941 and during the Ar- 
dennes offensive in 1944. The common characteristic of all these 
operations is that they were limited to capturing the objectives and 
holding them until the ground forces arrived. Beyond that, there 
was no further action by the troops landed from the air, either in 
the form of large-scale attacks from the airhead or of independent 
airborne operations. At the time, such missions would have been 
far beyond the power of the troops committed. 

In the second group are the operations having as their objective 
the capture of islands. On a large scale these included the capture 
of Crete in 1941;j.on a more limited scale, the capture of Leros in 
1943. Crete came closer to the concept of an independent operation, 
although the objective was strictly limited in space. The planned 
attack on Malta also belongs in this category. The experience of 
World War II shows that such missions are well within the means 
of airborne operations. In selecting their objectives even Germany's 
enemies did not exceed these aims, although they committed substan- 
tially greater forces. This does not mean that in the future the 
objectives of airborne operations cannot be extended. 

Two considerations influence the selection of the objective in air- 
borne operations. The first is that in respect to their numbers, and 
also as far as their type, equipment, and training is concerned, the 
forces available must be fit for the task facing them. This is of course 
true of all tactical and strategic planning, but at the beginning of 
the war, because of a lack of practical experience, the manpower needs 
were greatly underestimated. 

The second consideration — and this is especially Important for air- 
borne operations — is that at least temporary and local air superiority 
is an absolute necessity. This factor has a decisive influence upon 
the selection of the objective, at least as far as distance is concerned. 
The latter condition prevailed during the large-scale German air- 
borne operations against Holland and Crete ; but the first condition 
did not exist in equal measure, a fact which led to many crises. Both 
were absent during the unsuccessful Ardennes offensive. 

In preparing for an airborne operation the element of surprise must 
be maintained. In the operation against Holland surprise was easily 
achieved since it was the very first time that an airborne operation 
had ever been undertaken. Once the existence of special units for air- 
borne operations and the methods of commiting them had become 
known, surprise was possible only through careful selection of time 
and place for the attack, and of the way in which it was started. This 
requires strict secrecy regarding preparations. In the Crete operas 
tion such secrecy was lacking, and the grouping of parachute troops 



and transport squadrons became known to the enemy who had little 
doubt as to their objective. The result was that the German troops 
landing from the air on Crete came face to face with an enemy ready 
to defend himself; consequently, heavy losses were sustained. 

[Field Marshal Kesselring's comments on the element of surprise: 
Airborne operations must always aim at surprise, which has be- 
come increasingly difficult but not impossible to achieve. Detection 
devices, for example radar equipment, can pick up air formations 
at a great distance and assure prompt countermeasures. Flights 
at very low altitude, such as were planned for the attack against 
Malta, are difficult to detect by means of such equipment. The ef- 
fectiveness of these devices is neutralized by natural barriers in the 
terrain. Attention can be diverted by deception flights, and con- 
fusion is often caused by suddenly changing the course of the air- 
craft during approach runs, as well as by dropping dummies at 
various places behind the enemy front. Night operations increase 
the possibility of surprise; in many cases this is also true for the 
ensuing ground combat. It is impossible to overestimate the value 
of soundless glider approaches during twilight hours for the suc- 
cessful execution of air landings. It is easier to preserve secrecy in 
the assembly of airborne units than in concentrations prior to 
ground operations of the same size, since with proper organization 
the airborne troops can be assembled and attacks prepared deep 
in friendly territory within very short periods of time. Crete is 
the classic example of how this should not be done.] (The Crete 
operation is discussed in more detail on pages 19 ff.) 

Connected with the element of surprise is deception. A typical 
deceptive measure in airborne operations is the dropping of dummies 
by parachute. Both sides availed themselves of this measure during 
World War II. Experience shows that an alert enemy can soon recog- 
nize dummies for what they are. A mingling of dummies and real 
parachutists promises better results because it misleads the enemy 
as to the number of troops involved and leaves him guessing as to 
where the point of main effort of the attack is to be located and as 
to where only a diversionary attack is concerned. As an experiment, 
the German parachute troops also attempted to equip the dummies 
with smoke pots which would start smoking when they reached the 
ground, thus making it still harder for the enemy to see through 
the deception. This idea never advanced beyond the experimental 

Careful reconnaissance is also of special importance in airborne 
operations. The difficulty is that in airborne operations troops cannot, 
as in ground combat, conduct their own reconnaissance inimediately 



in advance of the main body of troops. In attacking, their spear- 
heads penetrate country that no reconnaissance patrol has ever trod. 
This is why reconnaissance will have to be carried out very carefully 
and well in advance. Military-geographical descriptions, aerial pho- 
tography, reports from agents, and radio intelligence are sources of 
information. All this requires time. Before the Holland operation 
enough time was available, and it was utilized accordingly. Recon- 
naissance before the Crete attack was wholly inadequate and led to 
serious mistakes. For instance, enemy positions were described as 
artesian wells and the prison on the road from Alikaneou to Khania 
as "a British ration supply depot." Both the command and the troops 
had erroneous conceptions about the terrain on Crete, all of which 
could have been avoided if more careful reconnaissance had been 

Several views were current among German airborne commanders 
as to the best way of beginning an airborne operation. One method, 
which General Student recommended and called "oil spot tactics," 
consisted in creating a number of small airheads in the area to be 
attacked— at first without any definite point of main effort — and then 
expanding those airheads with continuous reinforcements until they 
finally ran together. These tactics were used in both Holland and 
Crete, General Meindl, on the contrary, was of the opinion that a 
strong point of main effort had to be built up from the very outset, 
just as was done in attacks made by the German panzer forces. How- 
ever, no German airborne operations were launched in accordance 
with this principle. Neither of the two views can be regarded as 
wholly right or wrong; which one will prove more advantageous 
will depend on the situation of one's own and the enemy's forces, 
terrain, and objective. Even in conventional ground combat an at- 
tack based on a point of main effort which has been determined in 
advance is in opposition to the Napoleonic method of ^'on s'etigage 
partout et puis on voif (one engages the enemy everywhere, then 
decides what to do). This implies, however, that a point of main 
effort will have to be built up eventually by committing the reserves 
retained for this purpose. If the relatively strong forces required 
by this method are not available, it would be better to build up a 
point of main effort from the very beginning. On the other hand, 
since in airborne operations a thrust is made into terrain where the 
enemy situation is usually unknown, the "oil spot method" has a 
great deal in its favor. For example it breaks up enemy counter- 
measures, as in the attack on Crete. During the initial attack there, 
parachute troops were distributed in a number of "oil spots"; there 
were heavy losses and no decisive successes. No further paratroopers 
were available and the decision was made to land the troop carriers 



of the 6th Mountain Division wherever an airfield was in German 
hands, even though it was still under enemy fire. This was taking a 
great risk, but the plan succeeded from this point onward, the island 
was captured and the other "oil spots" liberated. At one time, 
the whole operation was within a hair's breadth of disaster because 
the airheads, which were too weak and too far apart, were being 
whittled down. After the decision to attack one point had been car- 
ried out and had succeeded, the remaining "oil spots" were useful 
since they prevented the enemy from moving his forces about freely. 
The advantages and dangers connected with this method are clear. 

The unavoidable inference from the Crete operation is that com- 
manders of airborne troops should land with the very first units so 
that clear directions for the battle can be given from the outset. The 
over-all command, however, must direct operations from the jump-off 
base and influence the outcome by making a timely decision as to 
where a point of main effort should be built up, and by proper commit- 
ment of reserves. For this purpose an efficient communication system 
and rapid reporting of the situation are necessary. 

Since the actual fighting in airborne operations takes place on 
the ground and in general is conducted in close touch with other 
ground operations, it is advisable to have both airborne and ground 
operations under the same command. In the German airborne opera- 
tions in Crete, the Luftwaffe was in command and neither the ground 
force commanders in Greece nor the OKH (Army High Command) 
had anything to do with the preparations ; this was a mistake. 

In airborne operations the air forces are responsible for keeping 
the air open for the approach and supply of the landing formations. 
They also aid in the operation by reconnaissance and by commitment 
of their tactical formations in preparing the landing and in support- 
ing the troops which have landed. In this they must receive their 
orders from the Command of the ground forces. 

[Field Marshal Kesselring's comment on command for airborne 

I do not agree with the statement about the conduct of airborne 
operations. These operations must be considered from the view- 
point of the Armed Forces High Command (OKW). The com- 
mander in chief of a theater, for example the Eastern Theater or 
the Southern Theater, is also a joint forces commander with a 
joint staff. He is responsible for all airborne operations which 
are launched within his theater. Hence, the commander of the 
airborne operation must also be subordinate to him. This com- 
mander will generally be an officer of the Air Force whose staff 
must be supplemented, according to the task assigned him, by 
Army and Navy officers as well as airborne officers. In some 



special cases and invariably in those cases where there is no direct 
connection with the ground and sea fronts, the OKW will plan the 
operation and conduct it directly. The situation and the mission 
would probably be the decisive factors in making a decision about 
the chain of command. If the mission involves supporting a ground 
attack by means of an airborne operation directly behind the 
attacked front, the army group will be given the over-all command, 
will assign missions, and will intervene whenever necessary for the 
purpose of air-ground co-ordination. As soon as the attacking 
ground troops establish an effective link-up with the airborne unit, 
the airborne troops will be brought into the normal chain of com- 
mand of the attacking ground forces. Unity of command takes 
precedence over all other considerations. Until that time the air- 
borne troops are commanded by their own unit commanders. The 
highest ranking oflBicer in the landing area commands at the air- 
head and is himself subordinate to the commander of the airborne 
operation — ^in the above case to the army group commander — ^who 
works in close co-ordination with the Air Force commander. In 
all other cases where, as in Holland, Crete, Oslo, there are no direct 
connections with operations of the Army or the Navy, a special 
headquarters, preferably commanded by an Air officer and staffed 
with Air Force personnel, should be placed in charge of the opera- 
tion. In appropriate cases, it will be the Air Force commander 
concerned, especially if the tactical air support units for the airborne 
operation have to be taken from his sector of the fighting front. 
This commander's responsibilities include not merely the landing 
of the first echelon but also the considerably harder problem of 
directing the following waves and modifying their landing orders 
in accordance with the development of the situation at the airhead. 
They also involve the preparatory bombing attack; protection by 
reconnaissance planes, bombers, and close-support aircraft aimed, 
I might say, at supporting the ground troops with high and low 
altitude attacks carried out by the extended arm of a flying artillery ; 
the air transport of supplies; and finally the evacuation by air 
of casualties, glider pilots, and other specialists. The shortest 
possible chain of command is decisive for success.] 

Mention has already been made of the fact that control of the air 
is an essential prerequisite for airborne operations. If that control 
is widespread and based upon maintaining the initiative in air com- 
bat, the air support of the airborne force will present few problems. 
Airborne operations based upon temporary and local air superiority 
are also possible, but they make strenuous demands upon the at- 
tacker's air force. Immediately before an operation, the enemy's 



forward fighter fields xnust be rendered useless, and all antiaircraft 
installations along the route selected for the flight must be neutralized. 
Enemy radar and communications facilities' in the area should also 
be put out of action, and any enemy reserves near the projected air- 
head must be subjected to intensive bombardment. Such activity 
must begin so late that the enemy will have no time to bring in addi- 
tional troops or to repair the damage. 

Each airborne formation will require a fighter escort. From the 
point of view of air tactics, it will therefore be desirable to keep the 
number of formations or waves to a minimum. The primary mission 
of the escort will be to protect the troop-carrier aircraft against enemy 
fighter planes, especially during the landing and deployment of the 
troops for ground action. The neutralizing tactics already mentioned 
will have to be continued during and after the landing to insure the 
safe arrival of supplies and reinforcements. The troops on the ground 
wUl continue to require vigorous air support to take the place of 
artillery that would normally be supporting them. 

Throughout World War II the German parachute troops had the 
benefit of close co-operation on the part of Luftwaffe reconnaissance. 
The main problem was to see to it that the parachute troops received 
good aerial photographs' and, if possible, stereoscopic pictures of the 
area they were to attack so that they could familiarize themselves 
in advance with the terrain. It proved to be advisable to distribute 
stereoscopic equipment down to battalion level and to send members 
of the parachute units to the aerial photography school of the Luft- 
waffe for special training in the use and interpretation of stereoscopic 
pictures. In this way, it was possible to offset to a certain degree the 
lack of terrain reconnaissance prior to an airborne attack. 

Finally, the air forces support the airborne operation by attack- 
ing the enemy's ground forces. During the war all German airborne 
operations took place beyond the range of German artillery, and only 
in the case of the Ardennes offensive were parachute troops to be 
stapported by long-range artillery bombardment. This plan was 
never put into operation because the radio equipment of the forward 
observer assigned to the parachute troops failed to function after the 
jump. Ground strafing and preparatory bombing of the landing area 
proved to be the best solution everywhere. Air attacks upon enemy 
reserves being rushed toward the airhead can be of decisive importance 
because of the extra time gained for the troops which have been 
landed. Opinions are divided, however, regarding the value of direct 
air support of the troops fighting on the ground after their landing. 
On Crete, formations of the Luftwaffe's Von Richthof en Corps solved 
this problem in exemplary fashion. Other experiences, however, 
would seem to indicate that it is impossible to support airborne troops, 



once they are locked in battle, by delivering accurate fire from th© 
air or well-placed bombs. Lack of training and inadequate skill in 
air-ground co-operation may have disastrous effects. Systematic train- 
ing, in which well-functioning radio communication from the ground 
to the air and co-ordination between formations on the ground and 
in the air are emphasized, should achieve results' just as satisfactory 
as those achieved between armored formations and air forces. It 
goes without saying that co-operation from the artillery, in so far as 
airborne operations are conducted within its range, is worth striving 
for, both in preparation of the landing and in support of the troops 
after they have landed. Attention may be drawn to the Allied air- 
borne operation north of Wesel in March 1945 where British and Amer- 
ican artillery support is said to have been extremely effective. When 
airborne operations are effected on a beach, naval artillery takes the 
place of Army artillery. An increase in range made possible by the 
development of rockets will result in further possibilities for support. 

When troops landed by air are joined by forces advancing on the 
ground, the airborne operation may be said to be terminated. When 
airborne operations are conducted against islands and coast lines, 
junction with amphibious forces has the same effect. In World War 
II, accordingly, airborne oijerations were always conducted in co- 
ordination with ground or amphibious forces. How soon this junc- 
tion with ground or amphibious forces will be effected depends upon 
the number of troops and volume of supplies, including weapons and 
equipment, ammunition, rations, and fuel, which can be moved up by 
air. This again depends upon the air transport available and upon 
control of the air to insure undisturbed operation of the airlift re- 
quired for this purpose. If such relief cannot be provided in time, 
the troops landed will be lost. So far, no way has been devised of 
fetching them back by air. In the German airborne operations of 
World War II, supplying troops by air over long periods of time was 
impossible, not only because control of the air could not be maintained, 
but also because of a lack of transport planes. In German doctrine, 
the guiding principle was that as much airlift was needed to resupply 
a unit which had been landed by air with ammunition and weapons 
(excluding rations) for a single day of hard fighting as had been nec- 
essary for the transport of the unit to the drop point. While this 
proportion may seem very high and while it may be said that hard 
fighting does not take place at all times and by all elements at the 
same time, consideration must be given to the fact that in addition to 
supplies it will be necessary to bring up more troops to follow up 
initial successes and give impetus to the fighting. Eventually, the 
troops will need to be supplied with additional rations and, if they 
break out of their airhead, with fuel. In this field, too, postwar tech- 

372-S62 0-82-3 



nical achievements offei' h w possibilities. During the war the Ger- 
mans believed that junction of an airborne formation with ground 
troops had to be effected within two to three days after landing. On 
the basis of conditions prevailing in those days, these deadlines con- 
sistently proved to be accurate in practice. 


Three methods were used during World War II to land troops from 
the air at their place of commitment. Troops could be landed by 
parachute, by transport gliders released from tow planes, or by land- 
ing of transport planes. All three methods were used in >;aried com- 
binations, depending upon the situation. In accordance with the les- 
sons derived from World War II, the last method, for reasons which 
will be discussed later, is unsuitable for the initial capture of enemy 
territory from the air, that is, the creation of an airhead. Accord- 
ingly, only the commitment of paratroopers and gliderbome troops 
will be discussed here. (German experiences in the technique and 
tactics of these two methods are described in detail in the appendix.) 
The advantages and the disadvantages of the two methods will be 
compared here and conclusions drawn as to their future use. 

CoEomitmentof gliders has the great advantage that they land their 
whole load in one place. Since debarkation is a matter of seconds, the 
troops can bring their full fire and striking power to bear immediately 
after landing. The almost noiseless approach of the gliders, which 
have been released from the tow planes far from the objective, in- 
creases the element of surprise. Furthermore, diving gliders are able 
to make very accurate spot landings within a limited area. Glider 
troops are also able to open fire with aircraft armament upon an enemy 
ready to repulse them. German parachute troops were convinced 
that this would have an excellent effect on morale. In practice the 
method was used only once, so far as is known, and that was on a very 
small scale in July 19M at Vassieux against the French maquis, but its 
success was outstanding. While the glider offers pronounced advan- 
tages during the first attack on an objective which is defended, in the 
subsequent phases of the airborne operation its advantages over the 
use of parachutes lie in the fact that it can deliver substantially greater 
loads, such as heavy weapons, gmis, tanks, and trucks. 

On the other hand, parachute jumps make it possible to drop very 
large numbers of troops at the same time within a certain area. More- 
over, until the very last minute the commander can alter his Mection 
of the drop point. He can accordingly adapt himself to changed 
conditions far more easily than is the case with gliders. The latter 
are released far from the objective and once this has been done there 
is no way of changing the lauding area. 



On this basis it will be seen that the glider is particularly suited 
for the capture of specifically designated and locally defended ob- 
jectives, such as Fort Eben Emael, -while parachutists are more 
effective for the purpose of capturing larger areas. Among the Grer- 
man airborne troops a marked preference developed for a method in 
which an initial attack by gliders was quickly followed up by mass 
parachute jumps. This plan is not, however, universally applicable. 
In each case methods will have to be adapted to the situation, terrain, 
type of objective, and amount of resistance to be expected from the 
enemy; the commander of the parachute troops will have to make 
his decision within the framework of his mission. 

[Field Marshal Kesselring's comments on the relative merits of 
parachute and glider landings : 

The comparative advantages and disadvantages of parachute and 
glider landings are well described. Nevertheless, I maintain that 
at least the same" concentration of forces can be achieved with a 
glider landing as with a parachute jump. Experience shows that 
parachute landings are very widely scattered, so that assembly takes 
considerable time. Gliders, according to their size, hold ten to 
twenty or even more men, who immediately constitute a unit ready 
for combat. If the landing area is fairly large — the condition of 
the terrain is of little importance— and if the unit is well trained, 
the assembly of strong fighting units in a small area will not pre- 
sent any difficulties.] 

A weakness in the commitment of gliders is to be found in the fact 
that once they have been used they are immobilized on the ground 
and — at least on the basis of German progress by the end of the war— 
cannot be used twice during the same operation. The German con- 
clusion was that tra-nsport planes had to be used as soon as possible. 
There is no doubt, however, that in time a way will be found to get 
the gliders back to their base, for example, by the addition of light 
engines, or the use of helicopters. 

[Field Marshal Kesselring's comment on re-use of gliders: 

The abandoning of gliders should not be considered a great dis- 
advantage. , Their construction is very simple and within the means 
of even a poor nation. Excessively complicated devices [for glider 
recovery] should be avoidied. .But this does not apply to the de- 
velopment of new types of air transport facilities, especially for 
peacetime and training requirements, which can perhaps also be 
used in particularly favorable military situations.] 
- It is important to clear the landing zone immediately so that more 
gliders can land/in their turn. When large-scale glider landings in 
successive waves- are to be made, special personnel will have to be 
provided for the purpose. 



It must be mentioned in this connection that German gliders, pat- 
terned on those used in sport, had so-called "breaking points" (SoU- 
bntehstellen) , that is, joints of purposely weak construction, which 
would break first in crash landings or collisions with natural or 
artificial obstacles. This method brought about a substantial econ- 
omy in construction of the gliders and simplification in procurement 
of spare parts and maintenance. 


Hie necessity of having airborne units for the initial commitment 
during air landings has been I'ecognized. In both Holland and Crete 
elements of Army units, in part by design and in part because of 
ignorance of the situation, were landed from transport planes in 
territory still occupied by the enemy or situated within sight of 
enemy artillery observers. This was recognized as a mistake result- 
ing in serious losses. The only thing that saved the planes landing 
on the Maleme airfield in Crete from being completely destroyed by 
direct enemy fire was the fact that the ground was covered with 
dust as a result of drought and that the planes actually landed in 
clouds of dust. 

During the following war years, the parachute troops in Germany 
were steadily increased and improved. In accordance with the sit- 
uation and the nature of their intended mission, the troops had to be 
trained for commitment either by parachute jumps or by transport 
gliders. The designation of "parachute troops" {Fallschirmtruppe) 
and "parachutists" {FdUschirmjaeger) given these units in Germany 
is accordingly not quite accurate. Fundamentally a major part of 
the German airborne force was suited for transport-glider commit- 
ment only, since the plans of training them as parachutists could not 
be carried out. In practice, the percentage of trained parachutists 
steadily decreased with the result that, as the war continued, these 
troops were almost exclusively used in ground combat. The Wehr- 
macht, because of the scarcity of manpower, found it impossible to 
keep these units in reserve for their special duties. It is evident that 
only the "rich man" can afford such forces, and that efforts must be 
made to withdraw these troops as soon as possible after each airborne 
commitment. Otherwise their value as special units will rapidly de- 
crease, something very hard to remedy. 

One fundamental lesson derived from the first air landing was that 
even the very first elements reaching the ground must be fully 
equipped for battle. The parachutists landing on Crete had nothing 
but their pistols and hand grenades, the remaining weapons and 
ammunitions being dropped separately in special containers. After 
the Crete operation tlds was changed. It was realized that both 



parachute and transport glider troops must reach the ground as com- 
bat units ready for action. They must have heavy weapons, and espe- 
cially, tank-destroying weapons, adapted to this type of transporta- 
tion, as well as a suitable type of organization for even the smallest 
units, making it possible for each to fight independently. (Detailed 
information regarding the equipment of German parachute troops is 
contained in the appendix.) - In order to capture a usable airhead 
for the air-transported units, the parachute troops, over and above the 
initial landing, must be able to capture airfields, or at least terrain 
suitable for landing air transports, and to push back the enemy far 
enough from these areas to avoid the necessity of landing within 
range of direct enemy gunfire. In other words, the parachute troops 
must be capable of attacks with a limited objective, and of holding 
the captured terrain. Consequently, the parachute divisions were 
equipped with all heavy weapons and artillery; and an airborne 
panzer corps was organized with one panzer and one motorized in- 
fantry division. However, organization of these imits never got 
beyond the initial activation as conventional ground troops, and all 
plans to use them for airborne landings remained in the theoretical 
stage. After the Crete operation no German parachute division was 
committed in airborne operations as a whole unit. The airborne 
panzer corps never even received adequate training. Only parts of 
the remaining parachute divisions, of which there were six in 1944 
and ten or eleven at the end of the war in 1945, were trained for 
airborne operations. General Student gives a total figure of 30,000 
trained parachutists in the summer of 1944. Most of them were in 
the 1st and 2d Parachute Divisions, of whose personnel 50 and 30 
percent respectively were trained parachutists. Commitment of the 
divisions in ground combat continually decreased these figures so that 
parachutists from all units had to be recruited for the airborne attack 
in the Ardennes offensive. In the main, the training of these troops 
was inadequate. For instance, only about 20 percent of the para- 
chutists committed in this action were capable of jumping fully 
equipped with weapons. This was a serious disadvantage because 
very few of the weapons containers dropped were recovered. 

Aojordingly, the Germans had no practical experience in large-scale 
commitment of para<diutists with really modern equipment, nor was 
it possible to test the organization and equipment of such formations 
in actual combat. 

Earlier German experience points to two important considerations. 
In the first place, the parachute troops will be in need of a supply 
service immediately after landing. On the basis of the Crete ex- 
perience, it would seem advisable to incorporate service* units in the 
first waves of parachutists. The greater the scale of the airborne op- 
eration, the more thought will have to be given to the matter of 



motorized supply vehicles. Today their transportation in transport 
gliders presents no technical difficulties. In the second place, in cases 
where the intention is to follow up initial jumps with the landing of 
great numbers of air-transported troops, engineer units will have to 
be assigned to the parachute troops at an early stage for the purpose 
of preparing and maintaining landing strips for transport planes. 

Even though the German parachute troops lost their actual purpose 
in the last years of the war, they preserved their specific character 
in the organization of their personnel replacements. The operations 
actually carried out proved that the special -missions assigned to para- 
chute troops call for soldiers who are especially aggressive, physi- 
cally fit, and mentally alert. In jumping, the paratrooper must not 
only conquer his own involuntary weakness but upon reaching the 
ground must be ready to act according to circumstances ; he must not 
be afraid of close combat; he must be trained in the use of his own 
aJid the enemy's weapons; and, finally, his will to fight must not 
be impaired by the privations occasioned by such difficulties in supply 
as hunger, thirst, and shortage of weapons. For this reason, it is 
advisable for the parachute troops to take their replacements pri- 
marily from amqng men who have volunteered for such service. The 
excellent quality of the replacements which the German parachute 
troops were able to obtain until the very end explains why, even in 
ground combat, they were able to give an especially good account 
of theniselves. 

Good replacements, however, require careful training in many 
fields. Every paratrooper must be given thorough training in in- 
fantry methods, especially in close combat and commando tactics. 
This was shown to be necessary in all the operations undertaken. 
Only when the paratrooper proves from the outset to be superior to 
the attacking enemy can he be successful. Specialist training in the 
use of various arms and special techniques is essential. A mistake 
was made by the Germans in separating the initial jump training 
from the rest of the training program. Instead of becoming the 
daily bread of the paratrooper, jump practice accordingly evolved 
into a sort of "special art." All artificiality must be avoided in this 
branch of training. 

Special emphasis must be placed on training officers for the para- 
chute troops. One of the experiences derived from actual operations 
is that the officers must be past masters in the art of ground combat. 
The fact that the German parachute troops originated in the Luft- 
waffe caused a great many inadequacies in this respect. On the other 
hand, the parachute officer must have some knowledge of aviation, 
at least enough to be able to assess the possibilities of airborne 

There is no doubt that a sound and systematic training program for 



the parachute troops demands a great deal of time and that in the 
last years of the war the German parachute formations no longer had 
this time at their disposal. However, the time required for training, 
combined with the high standards set for the selection of replacements, 
acts as a deterrent to their commitment. The higher command will 
decide to make use of the troops only when all preconditions for a great 
success are at hand or when necessity forces it to do so. To commit 
these troops in regular ground combat is a waste. Commitment of 
parachute divisions in ground combat is justified only by the existence 
of an emergency. Once the divisions are committed as ground troops 
they lose their characteristic qualities as specialists. 


The original German plan to use Army troops for this purpose and 
to equip and train them accordingly was abandoned early in the war. 
The 22d Infantry Division, which had been selected in peacetime for 
the purpose, participated in airborne operations only once, in Hol- 
land in 1940. It was found that their double equipment— one set 
for regular ground combat, the other for use in air-landing opera- 
tions—constituted an obstacle; consideration for their special niis- 
sion limited their employment for ground combat. When a fresh 
commitment in line with their special mission became a possibility 
in Crete, it was found impossible to bring them up in time. On the 
other hand, as early as the Norway campaign, mountain troops were 
flown for commitment at Narvik without much prior preparation. 
While in this case nontactical transport by air was involved, the 
previously mentioned commitment in 1941 of the 5th Mountain Divi- 
sion in the airborne operation against Crete took place after only short 
preparation and was entirely successful. 

On the basis of these experiences the idea of giving individual Army 
units special equipment for airborne operations was abandoned. The 
German High Command set about finding ways and means to adapt 
all Army units for transport by air with a minimum of changes in 
their equipment. The results were never put into practice because 
after Crete the Germans did not undertake any other airborne oper- 
ations on a large scale. Crete, however, proved that the German 
mountain troops, because of their equipment and the training which 
they had received, as well as their combat methods, were particularly 
suited for missions of this nature. In the future the goal must be 
to find a way of committing not only mountain and infantry divisions 
but panzer and motorized formations in airborne operations. Their 
equipment and organization for this purpose will depend upon the 
evaluation of technical possibilities which cannot be discussed in 
detail herej The chief demand which the military must make upon 



the technical experts is that the changes required for such commit- 
ment be kept to a minimum. A way must be found to determine the 
best method for such a change so that the troops can undertake it 
promptly at any time. 

The lesson learned from German airborne operations in World 
War II was that air-transported troops can be committed only if 
the success of landing and unloading is guaranteed by a sufficiently 
large landing zone. These troops are not suited to the purpose of 
capturing an airhead. With the exception of the technical details 
concerned with their enplaning, these troops require no special train- 
ing. The logical conclusion to be drawn from this lesson is that 
parachute troops, who capture the airhead, must be increased in 
number and supplied with more fire power. 


Transporting troops by air to their area of commitment is more 
or less a matter of transportation alone and in an efficiently organ- 
ized modern air force presents no difficulty at all. However, the 
approach flight and dropping of parachute troops is a part of the 
operation itself and determines its subsequent success or failure. The 
inconclusive but rather disappointing German experiences in this 
field have been set down, from the point of view of an airborne field 
commander, in the appendix. Transport squadrons — ^including both 
the transport planes for the parachutists and the tow planes for the 
gliders — are to the parachute troops what horse teams are to the 
artillery and motor vehicles to the motorized forces. In each case 
correct tactical leadership for each mode of transport is a prerequisite 
for the correct commitment of the troops in time and space — conse- 
quently, they must be trained jointly. DUring commitment the 
transport squadrons must be subordinated to the parachute com- 
manders, who must be trained to give orders to the transport squad- 
rons in correct and systematic form. The ideal solution would 
undoubtedly be to incorporate the transport squadrons organically 
into the airborne forces, but this solution is expensive. Lack of suffi- 
cient materiel alone made it impracticable during World War II 
as far as the Wehrmacht was concerned. A compromise solution 
would be close co-operation in peacetime training. The transport 
squadrons will have to be made available to the parachute units well 
in advance of an airborne operation since joint rehearsals are a pre- 
requisite of success. This fact increases the amount of time needed 
for the preparation of an airborne operation and at the same time 
endangers the secrecy surrounding the undertaking, because such a 
grouping of units can give the enemy valuable leads regarding one's 



The most important factor is the selection of the time and place 
of the jump and of the release of the gliders. This requires very 
precise orders and is subject to the decision of the commander of the 
parachutists. Again and again lack of care in this regard resulted 
in breakdowns during German airborne operations in World War II. 
Only twice did strict observance of this point result in smooth func- 
tioning — during the airborne operations to capture the Isthmus of 
"Corinth in 1941, when the limited scope of the undertaking made it 
possible to commit transport squadrons having just finished thorough 
training in co-operation with parachutists ; and during the capture of 
Fort Eben Emael in 1940, when the units participating in the opera- 
tion had received joint training over an extended period. 

The principle of subordinating the transport squadrons to the para- 
chute commanders makes it imperative that the training of these com- 
manders be extended to include flight training. 

In this connection mention must be made of the so-called pathfinder 
airplanes, whose mission in relation to airborne operations at night is 
described in the appendix. What has been said above also holds good 
for them. Their proper use is essential for success and demands, 
above aU, skill in navigation in order to calculate timing accurately. 


In assessing the successes and failures of German airborne opera- 
tions the following missions are taken into consideration: Holland, 
1940; Corinth, 1941; Crete, 1941; Leros, 1943; and Ardennes, 1944. 
All other commitments of German airborne troops fall into the cate- 
gory of commando operations or of troop movements by air. 

Holland, 19Jfi. — On the whole, the airborne operations against Hol- 
land, in spite of a number of critical moments and relatively great 
losses, must be classi fied a .3 successful. This success was connec ted 
not^o muclx with achieveruent of the tactical objectives, such as the 
capture of a number of bridges which were important & the attacking 
ground forces, as with the mo rale JnjBiuence exerted upon the enemy by 
a wholly new method of fighting. The very fact that in this way large 
forces could penetrate deep behind Dutch defenses at the outset of 
the fighting undoubtedlxbrpke tlvi resistance of the Dutch and saved 
the German A rmy the cost of a serious fight in capturing Holland. 
Success is attributable mainly to the^surjpriseJprovoked by this method, 
which was used for the first time in the^Hstory of warfare. 

[Field Marshal Kesselring's comments on airborne operations in 
Holland : 

This was the first airborne operation in history and should be 
treated in somewhat greater detail. The operation was under the 

372-562 0-82-4 



over-all direction of the commander of Second Air Force. The tac- 
tical commander was General Student. His headquarters was di- 
vided into a mobile forward echelon, headed by Student in person, 
and a stationary rear echelon, which was to assume special impor- 

The operation was divided into the following parts : 

1. An operation with gliders alone against Fort Eben Emael and the 
Maas bridge. With the capture of Fort Eben Emael, the enemy 
flanking actions against the Maas crossings were eliminated. The 
capture of the most important bridge guaranteed that the Maas 
River would be crossed according to plan and thus established the 
necessary conditions for the co-ordination of ground and air opera- 
tions in Holland. The dawn missions succeeded surprisingly well. 

2. A major airborne operation by two divisions to capture the Moor- 
dijk bridges, the Rotterdam airport, the city of Rotterdam, and the 
Dutch capital of The Hague and its airfields. Since the second part 
of the mission (22d Infantry Division — ^The Hague) was not suc- 
cessful, the subsequent operations in the Dutch coastal area failed to 
take place. 

The.attempt_ at surpris e jwus successful. Today one cannot even 
imagine the panic which was caused by rumors of jhe appearance of 
parachutists, suppOTted by the dropping of dummies, etc. Jfever- 
theless, the surrender of Rotterdam was the result of the bold actions 
of the parachutists and the air attack against the defended positions 
in Rotterdam. The operation had been organized by Student with 
the thoroughness characteristic of him. In fact, it had been a small 
military masterpiece, particularly with respect to the following : 

a. The deployment of troops and troop-carrier formations among 
the only airfields near the border, just within range of the most dis- 
tant objectives. 

6. The incorporation of escort fighter wings in the transport 
movement, for which General Osterkamp can claim both the respon- 
sibility and the credit. 

c. The co-ordination of the bomber escort attacks with the landing 
operations, which had been rendered even more difficult because the 
commander in chief of the Luftwaffe had ordered an attack against 
reported enemy naval vessels on the previous evening. 

Th e succe ss of the airborne operation with respect to its strategic 
effect is mcpntSt^ Theater of OpSations was 
practically eliminated. The^faihires^j,n d losses ca n be attributed 
to the following : 

a. Interference with the plan of attack by the commander in chief 
of the Luftwaffe, mentioned above. 

&. The inadequate strength of parachutists in the air attack group 
of the 22d Infantry Division. 



0. Defects in co-ordination between the 22d Infantry Division and 
the troop-carrier formations and inadequate training of both in the 
tactical doctrine for carrying out an airborne operation. 

d. Technical defects in the signal communications system which 
made it diffcult or impossible for the parachutists and transport 
formations to co-operate with the 22d Infantry Division and, 
similarly, hampered General Student in issuing orders to that 

e. The command technique of General Student, who thought of 
himself as the commander of the Kotterdam operation and thus 
neglected liaison with the Second Air Force, especially during the 
most decisive hours. 

However, all in all, the airborne operation proved successful as 
the first of its kind because essentially it j was co rrect ly organ ized 
and carried out wit h unpa,ralleled verve. It taught us a great 
number of practical lessons, the application of which did not present 
any problems which were insurmountable from a technical or 
tactical point of view. It^prove d that a n airborn e operation needs 
ite^wnronnngjid^^^^^^ both on the ground and in the Eiir, as^well 

Corinth, 19^1. — This was an operation on a limited scale under- 
taken by well-trained parachute troops and troop-carrier units. Re- 
sistance was limited. As far as executioii of the operation is con- 
cerned, it may be rated as a complete success. The actual tactical 
success was limited to capture of the Isthmus of Corinth. The bridge 
over the Corinth Canal was destroyed by an explosion of undetermined 
origin, but makeshift repairs made it possible to use the bridge again 
that sa;me day. If the^ttack^had been made a few days earlier, the 
airborne^eratipn,jn the form of a verticaLenvslopment, could have 
been Jar more succes^^^^ and large numbers of ^ j^^^^ British Expedi- 
tionary Force could haTO been cut. Q^ fM to their embarkation 
portsjra the P It is true, however, that resistance would 
have been greater in this case. 

Crete, WJfl. — ^The capture of the island of Crete was the most inter- 
esting and most eventful German airborne operation. The initial 
attack contained all the germs of failure. Only the fact that the 
defenders of the island limited themselves to purely defensive meas- 
ures and did not immediately and energetically attack the landing 
troops saved the latter from destruction. Even though the situation 
was still obscure, the German command decided to commit its reserves 
(5th Mountain Division) in an all-out attack against the point which 
seemed to offer the greatest chances of success ; the energetic, purpose- 
ful, and systematic commitment of these forces in an attack imme- 



diately after their landing changed the threatened failure into a 
success. A serious disadvantage for the attackers was British control 
of the sea at the beginning of the operation. Only after several days 
was it possible to break down this control to such an extent that some- 
what insecure communications with the island were possible. 

[Field Marshal Kesselring's comments on airborne operations in 

I did not participate in the Crete operation, but later was fre- 
quently in Crete, and I have also talked with many parachute 
officers who were in action there. 

The specml^haracteris^^ operation was its improvisa- 

tion. That the objective of the operation was achieved so quickly, 
in spite of all reverses, is the greatest tribute which can be paid to 
the fighting men and commanders engaged in it. Improvisation, 
however, should be avoided if possible, since the risk involved is 
too high in proportion to the number of men committed. But it 
is not true, as stated in this report, that "an airborne operation 
is . . . time consuming . . . and affords neither much freedom of 
maneuver nor a great deal of flexibility." (See page 43.) 

If the airborne troops have a suitable, permanent organiza- 
tion and if reconnaissance is begun early and carried out with all 
available means, there is no reason for assuming that an airborne 
operation cannot be carried out as swiftly as the situation demands. 
The art of command lies in thinking ahead. Applied to this particu- 
lar problem, this means the prearrangement of an adequate, efficient 
ground organization, such as was available in the case of Crete, and 
the timely procurement of the necessary fuel, etc., via land or sea, 
which would also have been possible. Under ideal conditions, if 
permanent large-scale airborne formations had been available, this 
would havFpresented even fewer difficulties, since the combat troops 
would have been flown in by their own transport planes. One can 
easily conclude from this that a high degree of surprise might 
have been achieved under the assumed conditionsT I repeat, because 
of the elements of danger inherent in airborne operations, improvi- 
sations can be resorted to only in exceptional cases and under par- 
ticularly favorable conditions. Otherwise they should be rejected. 

In this case it would have been advisable for the commander of 
the airborne operation and, if possible, the division commanders to 
have made a pereonal reconnaissance flight to inform themselves 
about terrain conditions and possible defense measures of the 
enemy, as a supplement to the study of photographs. The_excep- 
tiraaily^ unfOTorable lan^^ conditions should have induced them 
to land in^a_ single .area away from the ecejjpied objectives with 



their effective defense fire, and then to capture the decisive points 
(airport and seaport) intact in a subsequent conventional infantry 
attack at the point of main effort. In doing this it would not have 
been necessary to abandon the use of surprise local glider landings 
directly into key points, the possession of which would have facili- 
tated the main attack.] 

Zeros, 191f3. — This was an operation on a limited scale which, in 
spite of some inadequacies in execution, led to success within four 
days, mainly as a result of a favorable situation and co-ordination with 
landings from the sea. (See also pages 47 and 48.) 

Ardennes, 19U. — ^The airborne operations connected with the 
A.rdg nnes. -offensive were definitely a failure. The force committed 
was far too small (only one battalion took part in the attack) ; the 
training of parachute troops and troop-carrier squadrons was inade- 
quate ;-±lie Allies ha d sup eriority in the air; the weather was un- 
_fay()rable; preparations and instructions were deficient; the attack 
by ground forces miscarried. In short, almost every^ prerequisite of 
•success was lacking. Therefore, it would be wrong to use this opera- 
tion as a basis for judging the possibilities of airborne operations. At 
that time the Wehrmacht was so hopelessly inferior to the enemy in 
manpower and materiel that this operation can hardly be justified and 
is to be regarded only as a last desperate attempt to change the for- 
tunes of war. 


The airborne operation against Crete resulted in very serious losses 
which in percentage greatly exceeded those sustained by the Germans 
in previous World War II campaigns. The parachute troops were 
particularly affected. Since everything Germany possessed in the 
way of jgarachute troops hadjieen committed in the attack on Crete 
and had been reduced in that campaign to about one-third of their 
original strength, trofew^qualified troops remained to carry out large- 
scale^ airborne operations at thelieginning of the Russian campaign. 
Air transportation was also insufficient for future operations. 

Furthermore, the German High Command had begun to doubt 
whether such operations would continue to pay — ^the Crete success 
had cost too much. The parachute troops themselves, however, re- 
covered from the shock. Their rehabilitation was undertaken and 
lessons were drawn from the experience, so that a year later a similar 
und erta king against the island of Malta was energetically prepared. 

At this point, however, Hitler himself lost confidence in operations 
of this nature. He had come to the conjelusion^^^t^ only airborne 
operations which came as a complete surprise ^^^^ 



After the airborne operations against Holland and Crete, he believed 

surprise^ attacks to be impossible and maintained that the days of 
successful airborne operations were over. The fact that the Cretan 
bp¥faTions came so close to deleat strengthened his opinion. More- 
over, the Malta operation would have to be prepared in Italy and 
1 launched from there. Prior experience with the Italians had proved 
I that the enemy would be apprised in advance regarding every single 
/ detail of the preparations, so that even a partial surprise was im- 
' possible. Since Hitler had no confidence at all in the combat value 
of the troops, which with the exception of the German parachute 
troops were to be of Italian origin exclusively, he did not believe 
the undertaking could be successful and abandoned its execution. 
The special circumstances prevailing at that time may have justified 
this particular decision, but the basic attitude in regard to airborne 
operations later turned out to be wrong. 

According to General Student, Hitler and the commander in chief 
of the Luftwaffe were so thoroughly convinced that the days of suc- 
cessful airborne operations were over that they believed that not 
even the enemy would engage in any more large-scale preparations for 
[ airborne operations. When the attack by British and American para- 
troopers on Sicily proved the contrary, the Wehrmacht was itself 
no longer in a position to carry out large-scale airborne operations. 
The main essential, superiority in the. air, was lacking. The Luftwaffe, 
no longer a match for the Allied air forces, was unable to assemble 
enough planes to attain the necessary local superiority in the air and 
to maintain it for the time required ; nor was the Luftwaffe able to 
make available sufficient transport space. It is true that airborne 
units were available, but because manpower was so scarce they were 
constantly being committed in ground operations. The special na- 
ture of their mission was retained only to the extent that they were 
transported by air to points that were threatened and that in some 
cases, as in Sicily, they were also dropped-by parachute. Aside from 
this, their training in their special fields suffered from a lack of air- 
craft required for the purpose. 

At the time of the Allied invasion of France the commander in 
chief of the Luftwaffe proposed to link up the planned counterattack 
with airborne operations in force. The OKW turned him down be- 
cause first, the parachute troopers available were already fighting 
on the ground ; second, their training was inadequate for such a pur- 
pose ; and third, even if the needed troop carriers could be provided, 
the hopeless inferiority of the Luftwaffe made it impossible to achieve 
control of the air either in space or in time. 

The lesson based upon German operations may then be summarized 
as follows : In airborne operations cheap successes cannot be achieved 



with weak forces by means of surprise and bluff. On the contrary, 
airborne operations which are to achieve success on a large scale re- 
quire a great outlay of materiel, outstanding personnel, and time for 
training and preparation. Such operations are accordingly "expen- 
sive." From 1941 on Germany, in comparison to its enemies, was 



The following discussion is based mainly on three major air- 
borne operations in western Europe — Normandy in June 1944 (the 
invasion), Nijmegen and Arnhem in September 1944, and north of 
Wesel in March 1945. The author had little data at his disposal 
concerning the actions against Allied airborne operations in Sicily 
in 1943, but this will hardly impair the validity of the following 
statements, since the airborne landings in western Europe as well 
as the defense against them were based on lessons of the Sicilian cam- 
paign. Any analysis of these operations will therefore cover by 
implication the earlier experiences in Sicily, so far as they have not 
been superseded by more recent information. 

[Field Marshal Kesselring's comments on Allied airborne opera- 
tions in Sicily : 

The first Allied airborne operations in Sicily preceded the Ameri- 
can and British landings by sea. After jumping, the parachutists 
were scattered over a wide and deep area by the strong wind. Oper- 
ating as nuisance teams, they considerably impeded the advance 
of the Hermann Goering Panzer Division and helped to prevent it 
from attacking the enemy promptly after the landings at Gela 
and elsewhere. This opposition would not have made itself felt 
so strongly if General Conrath had not organized his troops in 
march groups contrary to correct panzer tactics. 

The second airborne operation of British parachutists took place 
in the night of 13-14 July 1943, close to the Simeto bridge on the 
highway between Catania and Lentini. The Commander in Chief, 
South {OB SUED) anticipated an airborne operation in the Cata- 
nia plain, even if an amphibious landing were not attempted there. 
He therefore had ordered that those parts of the plain which were 
west of the Catania airfield be denied the enemy through installation 
of wooden obstacles. The antiaircraft units protecting the lai'ge air- 
fields in the Catania plain had been specially charged with defense 
against airborne troops. During the first day of the landing oper- 
ation, every Allied air landing in the area around Catania could be 
attacked from the north by reserves of Brigade Sclimalz of the 
Herman Goering Panzer Division and by troops of the 1st Para- 




chute Division, wliicli had bfeen flown in to the eastern coast of 
Sicily. Even assuming the most favorable conditions for the 
enemy parachutists, no great Allied success could be expected, at 
least no success which justified such a large commitment of men. 
Thus it was inevitable that the British parachute attack in the 
night of 13-14 July 1943 was crushed. Even their purely tactical 
success in occupying the Simeto bridge was only of a temporary 
nature and had no effect on the over-all situation.] 


The great latitude which the airborne attacker enjoys in selecting 
his target makes it extremely difficult for the defender to take pas- 
sive defense measures against airborne operations. It is quite im- 
possible to set up antiair-landing obstacles throughout the country. 
Therefore, no more can be done than to determine what might con- 
stitute particularly desirable targets for an airborne attack and in 
what specific areas air landings directed against these targets might 
be undertaken by the enemy. These principles were followed by 
Germany in taking defensive measures against an invasion in the 
West, sinqe experience in Sicily clearly indicated that the enemy would 
also resort to airborne operations during an invasion. Accordingly, 
German antiairborne measures were determined by the following 
two aims : first, to render useless any points which appeared partic- 
ularly well suited for landing operations ; and secondly, to protect all 
likely targets against attack by airborne troops. 

The first purpose was served by erecting posts approximately 10 
feet long and 6 to 8 inches in diameter, imbedded 3 feet deep, connected 
by wires, and partly equipped with demolition charges. These ob- 
stacles were intended to prevent the landing of troop-carrying gliders. 
German experience showed that such post obstacles are effective only 
if they are equipped: with demolition charges. If no demolition 
charges are used, although the glider may crash, the enemy will still 
be able to make a successful landing. 

Mining and flooding the terrain were additional measures. The 
former can be effective against gliders as well as airborne troops if 
the enemy lands at the very point where the mine field has been laid. 
However, since such mine fields are necessarily limited because of 
shortage of materiel and personnel, it is really a matter of luck if the 
enemy happens to land in a mine field. Furthermore, in the interest 
of one's own troops, the local inhabitants, and agriculture and forestry,, 
it is impossible to consider extensive application of this method. 
Undoubtedly, flooding large areas by means of artificial damming 
deters the enemy from landing at the particular spots. This method, 
in addition to others, was widely used oh the Atlantic coast. Unf or- 



tunately, however, at the time of the invasion, some of these flooded 
areas had dried up again because of lack of rain. 

Laying mine fields and flooding areas serve a twofold purpose if, 
by their location, they not only prevent airborne landings but at the 
same time constitute obstacles against attack on the ground. 

In order to protect potential targets, preparations were made for 
all-around defense by establishing fortifications, obstacles, and bar- 
riers and by wiring bridges for demolition. These are measures which 
have to be taken everywhere in modern warfare — ^not only against 
airborne operations but also against,.penetrations by mobile forces on 
the ground, against commando raids, and in occupied territories 
against partisans and rebels. Wherever they were adequately pre- 
pared and reinforced by the necessary personnel, they served their 

Orders for resistance against invasion on the Atlantic coast called 
for an inflexible defense in which the coast constituted the main line 
of resistance. To counter any simultaneous large-scale airborne oper- 
ations, instructions wer© issued to develop a "land front" several 
miles inland, with its rear to the coast. In this manner, it was in- 
tended to establish a fortified area between "ocean front" and "land 
front" which was to be defended like a fortress, thus preventing the 
juncture of the enemy elements attacking from the sea and those land- 
ing inland from the air. During the invasion, however, the Allies did 
not oblige by landing their troops inland beyond the land front, but 
landed them either into it or between the two fronts. Furthermore, 
since the German land front was occupied by insufficient forces because 
of a shortage of personnel and since it had not been adequately devel- 
oped, its value was illusory. As a matter of fact, the obstacles, such as 
the flooding, at some points even protected Allied airborne troops 
against attacks by German reserves. 

Experience taught the Germans that passive measures have a limited 
value against airborne operations. Furthermore, in view of the great 
amount of time and materiel required, they can be employed only 
where the fronts are inactive for a long period of time. In mobile 
warfare, the only passive measures to be applied are preparations for 
an all-around defense carried out by all troops, staffs, supply services, 
etc., behind the lines. 


The prerequisite for a successful defense against enemy airborne 
operations is the early recognition of preparations for such operations. 
Frequently the signs of imminent air landings may be recognized from 
agents' reports and radio interception. The Germans themselves had 
no doubt that the invasion from the West would involve airborne 



operations on a large scale. On the other hand, it will nearly always 
remain uncertain up to the last moment, where and when these opera- 
tions may take place. Changes in the over-all picture obtained 
through radio interception may appear to give advance warning of 
an attack. If such changes occur frequently without an actual 
operation taking place, the alertness of the defender becomes blunted. 

The first positive reports are obtained through radar detection of 
the approach flight. In one case in Normandy it was possible, on the 
basis of radar, to infer as early as two hours before the jump that an 
airborne formation was approaching, and to alert the German forces 
in time. 

A well-organized observation service based on the co-operation of all 
units and agencies, even in the rear areas, should provide assurance 
that the point where enemy forces are actually landing is quickly 
determined. All observation, however, is useless unless the reports 
are rapidly transmitted to the superior agencies and to units imme- 
diately concerned. Experience has proved that telephone communica- 
tions are unreliable for this purpose since they are frequently dis- 
rupted by enemy action, such as preparatory bombing attacks. The 
transmittal of prepared messages by radio and appropriate warning 
broadcasts which all agencies and troops are able to receive has proved 

As soon as the air landings are an established fact, the next step 
is to determine where they are concentrated, which of the attacks 
are being made for the purpose of diversion and deception, and how 
wide an area is covered. This is extremely difficult, especially at 
night, and usually considerable time passes before some degree of 
clarity is possible. Therein lies the defender's greatest weakness. 
However, it is never advisable to delay countermeasures until this 
clarity has been obtained. In most cases, the situation will remain 
obscure until the counterattack is launched. It is all the more impor- 
tant, therefore, that reporting should not be neglected during the 
fighting ; this is a matter of training and indoctrination. 

It is a unique characteristic of airborne operations that the mo- 
ments of greatest weakness of the attacker and of the defender occur 
simultaneously. The issue is therefore decided by three factors : who 
has the better nerves; who takes the initiative first; and who acts 
with greater determination. In this comiection, the attacker always 
has the advantage of being free to choose the time and place of attack, 
and he therefore knows in advance when the moment of weakness 
will occur, whereas the defender must wait to find out where and 
when the attack will take place. 

The attacker will always endeavor to aggravate the defender's dis- 
advantages by deception and try to force him to split up his counter- 
measures. As already mentioned in Chapter 1, the most popular 



method of deception is the dropping of dummies with parachutes. In 
such cases an immediate attack rapidly determines whether it is a 
genuine landing operation or a diversion. Radio interception will 
also prove to be helpful at an early stage, for troops just landed must 
make prompt use of radio communications to establish contact with 
each other and with their superior commands at the jump-oflp base. 
Eadio, however, cannot be used in diversionary actions. Even if 
dummies were equipped with radio sets functioning automatically or 
by remote control — which should not be an insoluble technical prob- 
lem—alert and competent radio interception personnel would not be 
deceived for long. During the invasion in 1944, it was the signal 
intelligence service which was able, with comparative rapidity, to give 
the high command an accurate picture of the enemy's tactical group- 
ing during the air landings. The attacker will naturally endeavor 
to eliminate any targets such as radar equipment and long-distance 
radio stations by air attacks prior to the air landings. On the-other 
hand, such attacks can also be an advance warning for the defender. 

In occupied territories it is also possible by careful observation and 
surveillance of underground activities to discover indications of im- 
minent air landings, particularly if counterespionage elements suc- 
ceed in infiltrating the enemy's network of agents. 


Theoretically, the defender's best method of defense against air 
landings is the employment of air forces to attack the enemy while he 
is still approaching and to annihilate him or force him to turn back. 
In 1944-45 during the Western campaign, it was a foregone conclusion 
that victories were out of the question in view of the hopeless inferi- 
ority of the Luftwaffe. To repeat, mastery of the air by the attacking 
air force will always be the prerequisite for successful airborne opera- 
tions. The attacker endeavors, by means of bombing attacks, to de- 
stroy the defender's air forces on the ground and to protect the 
approach flight with superior numbers of escort fighters. If the 
attacker is unable to accomplish this, he will of necessity abandon the 
idea of an airborne operation altogether. Only in exceptional cases 
and under particularly favorable conditions will it be possible for the 
defender to launch an air attack against approaching air formations 
with any chance of success. 


A report made in June 1944 by Army Group B on the battle of 
Normandy includes the following statement: "The designation of 
areas to be taken under fire by all weapons while opposing the landing 



of airborne troops has proved satisfactory. (Fire by 20-mm. guns 
directed at enemy landing forces proved to be particularly effective.)" 
Countermeasures taken by the attacker include landings at night or 
during poor visibility. In this connection, the same report says, 
"Eainy weather and low clouds are favorable for airborne operations, 
because planes are able to dive and land without being hit by flak." 

It is undoubtedly advisable to inflict the highest possible losses on 
airborne troops while they are still in the air and while they are land- 
ing. To this end, it is necesary for all weapons within whose range 
an enemy plane is landing to take such a plane under fire. At Arnhem 
the British troops that landed in the vicinity of the Deelen airfield 
suffered heavy losses inflicted by German antiaircraft fire. By the 
same token, however, it is true that antiaircraft fire alone cannot 
succeed in preventing an air landing, since enemy troops descending 
by parachute cannot be held off or turned back by overwhelming fire, 
as might be the case during ground combat. They have to come down, 
whether they want to or not, and some of them will always succeed in 
reaching the ground in good fighting condition. It would be a mis- 
take to say on that account that antiaircraft defense fire offers no 
chance of success. On the contrary, it is the very moment of landing 
which holds out the greatest promise of success for antiaircraft de- 
fense, for the enemy troops which are landing are without cover ; they 
are defenseless to a certain degree and likely to suffer very heavy 
casualties. At this juncture, it is impossible for the attacker to pro- 
tect the troops from the air or by long-range artillei^ fire. Only 
gliders can use their arms against the firing defenders, and then only 
if they happen to be landing at the appropriate diving angle. The 
losses suffered by airborne troops while jumping and landing will 
greatly impair their combat efficiency and power of resistance. This 
will facilitate the task of subsequently annihilating them, and thus 
frustrate the landing attempt. For instance, the German invasion of 
Crete illustrates that it is possible to inflict serious casualties by anti- 
aircraft fire. The same examj^le, however, also demonstrates that the 
employment of antiaircraft fire alone is not sufficient to effectively 
resist an invasion. It can be achieved only through attack. If the 
defenders of Crete had not contented themselves with using antiair- 
craft fire alone but had immediately attacked the troops which had 
landed, the entire invasion would have failed at the outset. 


Experiences gained during their own air landings caused the Ger- 
mans to regard attack as the only effective means of combating air- 
borne operations. Their fight against Allied airborne operations 
demonstrated the wisdom of this rule. The Germans failed to crush 



the Allied invasion, not because this principle proved erroneous, but 
because the necessary forces were either lacking or could not be 
brought up quickly enough or because German counterattacks were 
not conducted properly. In many instances, however, these attacks 
did impede the progress of Allied airborne operations; at Amhem 
they brought Allied operations to a complete standstill. 

The most vulnerable period of any air landing is the interval be- 
tween the jump and the assembling of the forces into organized units 
under a unified command. In order to exploit this weakness, German 
field service regulations stipulated that any unit within range of enemy 
troops which had landed from the air should immediately attack since 
every moment's delay meant an improvement in the situation for the 
enemy. This method proved to be fundamentally sound. It led to 
success whenever the enemy landed in small scattered groups or when- 
ever the landing was effected in the midst or in the immediate vicinity 
of German reserves ready for action. But these tactics are not suc- 
cessful if the defending forces available for immediate action are too 
weak to defeat enemy troops vastly superior in number, or if the de- 
fenders are too far from the point of landing to be able to exploit 
the enemy's initial period of weakness. Then there is no longer any 
purpose in dissipating the defending forces in small isolated attacks 
or in doggedly fighting the enemy. It now becomes necessary to 
launch a systematic counterattack. 

Speed in carrying out a counterattack against enemy airborne troops 
is essential, because it is certain that the enemy's fighting strength 
will be increased continuously by means of additional reinforcements 
brought in by air. In general, only motorized reserves are successful 
in arriving in time. If the enemy's air force succeedsj as it did in 
Normandy, in delaying the arrival of reserves, the chances for success 
dwindle. The elements which are nearest the enemy have the task of 
defending important terrain features against air-landed troops, 
maintaining contact with them, and determining the enemy situa- 
tion through reconnaissance until all necessary arrangements for the 
counterattack have been made. The counterattack should be con- 
ducted under unified command and, as far as possible, launched as a 
converging attack from several sides and supported by the greatest 
possible number of heavy weapons, artillery, and tanks ; it is directed 
against an enemy who is well prepared and w-hose weakness lies merely 
in that he may be troubled by lack of ammunition and in that his heavy 
weapons, in general, are inferior in number since he has not established 
contact with those elements of the invading force which are advancing 
on land. To prevent the enemy from establishing contact is therefore 
highly important. If this fails, the defender's chances for success 
are considerably less. There were no cases during World War II in 



which the Germans succeeded in annihilating airborne enemy troops 
after they had established contact with their forces on the ground. 

The greatest stumbling block encountered by the Germans in com- 
bating Allied airborne operations in the West was the superiority of 
the Allied air force. German failure to eliminate this air force, or 
even to clear the skies temporarily, led to the most serious delays in 
bringing up reserves. The general scarcity of mobile reserves, com- 
bined with the fact that they were tied down elsewhere by order of 
the German High Command, led to the result that. in Normany counter- 
attacks were made too feebly, too late, or not at all. The success of the 
German counterattacks at Arnhem was due to the energetic action 
and unified command of Army Group B ; the fortunate coincidence 
that two SS panzer divisions were in the immediate vicinity; the 
weather, which prevented Allied air intervention ; and the resistance 
offered by the German troops at Nijmegen which prevented the prompt 
establishment of contact between Allied ground troops and airborne 


German specialists in airborne tactics (General Student and others) 
adhered to the theory that the best defense against an enemy air 
landing was the launching of airborne operations into the enemy air- 
head. However, no practical knowledge was gained concerning such 
operations. During World War II there was only one case in which 
air landings were effected from both sides in the same area and in 
quick succession. In 1943 in Sicily, south of Catania, British para- 
chutists jumped into an area where, unknown to the British, German 
parachutists brought in by air to serve as reinforcements had also 
jumped a short while before. German reports at hand vary in their 
appraisal of this incident. One report mentions a complete victory 
gained by the British, troops with heavy casualties among the German 
parachutists. Another report speaks of the annihilation of the ma- 
jority of the British paratroopers. What actually happened was that 
one small British group did succeed in reaching its objective, the bridge 
at PrimosolCj but then lost it. Whether or not this occurred because of 
or in spite of dual airborne operations can hardly be determined 
without a more thorough investigation of facts. An air landing into 
an enemy airhead will always result in confusion on both sides. It 
will, of necessity, lead to chaotic hand-to-hand fighting, similar to 
the cavalry battles fought centuries ago, in which ultimately the 
tougher and more tenacious fighter will be victorious. The initial 
advantage is definitely gained by the opponent who is aware of the 
situation and jumps into the enemy airhead, deliberately. If, in 
addition, he is supported from the outside by a concentrated thrust on 



the ground, it is quite likely that he will succeed in achieving a com- 
plete victory. The only question is whether, in the case of a large- 
scale airborne operation which definitely presupposes the air superir 
ority of the attacker, the defender will be in any position to carry out 
an air landing. At night this might be conceivable. In any event, 
such a counterjump likewise requires preparations and is therefore 
possible only if the attacker lands in an area where the defender has 
taken such preparatory measures. ' 


During a war, the success of one side and the failure of the other 
are interrelated. In general, the success of the defender's measures 
can best be judged by the degree to which the attacker, as the active 
party, has been able to realize his goal. From this point of view the 
three major Allied airborne operations during 19 11 1 5 wiU be briefly- 

The Allied air landings in Normandy in Jmie 1944 were carried out 
in close tactical collaboration with the amphibious operations. The 
Germans expected the air landings to take place farther inland, and to 
be aimed at more strategic objectives. Defensive measures were taken 
accordingly. The choice of landing areas for the over-all operations 
came as a surprise and, consequently, the defensive front was such 
that in comparison with other areas it was inadequately fortified and 
was held by weak German forces. The majority of the German re- 
serve was committed elsewhere and was only reluctantly released for 

Passive defense measures taken by the Germans did not influence 
the progress of the Allied airborne operations to any large extent. 
T^he first air landing, owing to an error in orientation, was dispersed 
far beyond the originally planned area. This caused the dissipation 
of initial German countermeasures. Isolated German successes were 
not able to prevent the over-all success of the air landing. Besides, 
since the drop zones covered a large area, it was difficult for the German 
command to quickly gain an accurate picture of the situation. This 
resulted in the erroneous commitment of the reserves and also had 
an adverse effect on the morale of the German troops. Because of the 
unmistakable air superiority of the enemy, it was impossible for the 
German countermeasurers to be executed rapidly enough. The Ger- 
man counterattacks were able to narrow the landing areas temporarily 
and to limited extent; they succeeded in preventing the troops which 
had landed from immediately taking the offensive. They also suc- 
ceeded in temporarily placing the Allied airborne troops in critical 



The German reserves were almost completely tied down by the air 
landings, making it impossible to launch effective counterattacks 
against the amphibious assault. Consequently, the attackers were 
able to gain a foothold on the coast and, within a short time, to estab- 
lish contact with the airborne elements. The tactical objective of 
establishing a bridgehead was thus accomplished despite German 

The significant fact is that the air landings made it possible to 
substantially increase the number of forces which had been brought 
to the mainland during the first phase, thus augmenting the purely 
numerical superiority of the attacker over the defender. 

It is open to question whether air landings with distinct concen- 
tration of forces on tactical objectives would have caused a more 
rapid collapse of the German over-all defense. Of course, the land- 
ings on the beaches would then have been more difficult. It also 
might have been possible to unify the German countermeasures against 
the invasion more effectively. The chances for greater victory would 
have involved a greater risk. 

The air landings at Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem in Sep- 
tember 1944 were directed at breaking up the German front and paving 
the way for the British troops to reach the northern flank of the 
Euhr area via the Meuse, the Waal, and the lower Ehine Rivers. The 
plan of attack offered the best chances of a major strategic victory. 
The operations also differed greatly from the Normandy landing in 
that they occurred during mobile warfare. Consequently, the Ger- 
mans were unable to take defensive measures to the extent possible 
under conditions of position warfare. On the basis of intelligence 
reports, the Germans had anticipated enemy airborne operations. 
Furthermore, the commanders in the near-by home defense zones 
{Wehrhreis VI and Luftgau VI) , as well as those in Holland, had 
made arrangements well in advance in order to be able to quickly 
form motorized auxiliary forces (so-called alert units) from home 
defense troops and occupation forces. These measures proved very 
effective, although the fighting strength of the alert units was neces- 
sarily limited. 

In conformity with German principles, the air landings «ere at- 
tacked as soon as they were recognized. Two factors proved 
particularly helpful for the Germans. First, the air landing was not 
accompanied by any major attack by the Allied ground forces, but 
was supported only by a thrust on a narrow front launched by rela- 
tively weak armored spearheads, and was not followed by a heavier 
attack until the next day; secondly, the weather changed. Conse- 
quently, as early as the next day, the reinforcement and resupply of 
the airheads was considerably hampered and nearly ceased altogether 
for several days. At the same time the operations of the Allied air 



force against the German countermeasures, which in Normandy had 
caused so much damage, were greatly curtailed for some days. 

The German counterattacks against the two southern airheads in 
the area of Eindhoven and south of Nijmegen neither managed to 
crush them completely nor prevented their joining forces with the 
advancing ground elements. However, the Germans repeatedly suc- 
ceeded in causing critical situations which delayed the advance of 
the Allied ground forces. Specifically, they managed to hold the 
bridge at Nijmegen for another four days, thus preventing the enemy" 
from establishing contact with the northernmost airheads at Arnhem. 

At Arnhem, in the meantime, the counterattacks conducted under 
the unified command of Army Group B, whose operations staff was 
stationed there, had been successful. The two worn-out SS panzer 
divisions which by pure chance were still in the vicinity, and the 
above-mentioned alert units, whose fighting strength was negligible, 
were the only troops available at the time. Nevertheless, the airheads 
of the 1st British Airborne Division was narrowed continually, until 
it was finally annihilated with the exception of small portions which 
escaped to the southern banks of the lower Khine River. 

The German tactics had proved successful. Although they had not 
been able to prevent a deep penetration by the enemy, the Germans 
had managed to dispel the great danger of a strategic break-through, 
such as the 4-llies had planned. It was another six months before the 
Allies were able to launch an attack across the Rhine. 

The Allied airborne operation at the Khine, north of Wesel in 
March 1945, involved two airborne divisions. They were dropped 
directly into the river defense zone, operating in closest tactical col- 
laboration with the ground troops which were launching an attack 
across the river. This air landing had been prepared with the greatest 
attention to detail and wa,s supported not only by a large-scale com- 
mitment of air forces, totaling more than 8,500 combat planes in 
addition to over 2,000 transport planes, but also by the entire artillery 
on the western bank of the Rhine. It was practically a mass crossing 
of the river by air. The operation was a complete success for it was 
impossible to take any effective countermeasures'. The German 
troops struck by the attack — ^worn-out divisions with limited fighting 
strength — defended their positions for only a short time before they 
were defeated. The only reserves available consisted of one training 
division whose troops had been widely dispersed to escape the incessant 
air attacks. This division was issued orders to launch a counterattack, 
and one regimental group did temporarily achieve a minor success 
against the landed airborne troops. The rest of the division was not 
committed at all, because enemy low-level planes completely wrecked 
all means of transportation. 





It is surprising that during World War II the USSR did not at- 
tempt any large-scale airborne operations. Although Soviet Russia 
was the first country in the world which during peacetime had ex- 
perimented with landing troops by air and had organized special 
units for this purpose, its wartime operations were confined to the 
commitment of small units' which were dropped back of the German 
front for the purpose of supporting partisan activities and which had 
no direct tactical or strategic effect. The reasons can only be surmised 
and might have been any or all of the following : 

1. In 1941, when the Soviet Union entered the war, the Eed Air 
Force was far inferior to the Luftwaffe. It is likely that the aware- 
ness of this inferiority persisted until the final stages of the war. 

2. The Russians are primarily at home on the ground and are not in 
their element on the water or in the air. 

3. In 1941 the parachute troops that had existed during peacetime 
may well have been expended in ground combat during the initial 
emergency. Later on, other parachute units were activated. Perhaps 
they lacked the necessary confidence or were considered too valuable 
to be risked in operations for which success was not assured. It is 
also possible that during the last phase of the war such operations 
simply were no longer regarded as necessary. 

4. Marshal Tukhachevski was the originator of the Soviet para- 
chute forces and after his removal the driving force in this new and 
untried field may well have been lacking. 

Be that as it may, the fact that during World War II the Soviet 
armed forces did not carry out any large-scale airborne operations, 
such as were carried out by the Germans in Crete and by the Allies in 
Holland, should not lead to the false conclusion that the Soviet Union 
is not concerned with this problem or would fail to make use of this 
new arm during future military operations. 

After finishing this study the author received additional informa- 
tion about an airborne operation carried out by the Russians late in 
the summer of 1943. Under cover of darkness, the Russians para- 
chuted approximately three regiments into the area northwest of 
Kremenchug, about 25 miles behind the German front on the Dnepr. 
The exact date and place could not be given from memory. Only 
infantry forces without heavy weapons were dropped and they showed 
no initiative after the jump. Landing in small groups scattered over 
an area about 25 miles across, each group dug in on the spot, making 
no effort to contact other groups. Apparently they had no contact 



with their take-off base, and there were no simultaneous attacks by 
Eussian ground forces across the Dnepr. 

Within a few days the individual groups were mopped up with 
little difficulty at their separate landing places by German security 
formations and reserves. It was assumed that the Russian airborne 
troops would make their positions known to Russian airplanes by 
fires at night. The Germans therefore lit fires all along the river 
banks from Kremenchug to Kiev during the night following the jump. 
The Russians parachuted no further troops nor did they drop any 
supplies after the night of the landing. It is unknown whether a 
follow-up was intended or if it did not take place because of the un- 
certainty of the location of the landed forces brought about by the 
German deceptive measures. 

The whole enterprise left the impression of inadequate preparation. 
Inadequate reconnaissance, mistakes in navigation during the ap- 
proach and jump, lack of contact among the individual groups and ; 
between them and their base, as well as the complete passivity of the \ 
parachuted troops were the main deficiencies. The enterprise must be j 
considered a complete failure. This may be why it remained so ob- i 
scure that all German officers interviewed in connection with the 
original study, including General Student, General Blumentritt, and 
General Meindl (all officers with a comprehensive knowledge in this 
field) , unanimously and independently stated that no large-scale air- 
borne operations had been carried out by the Russians during World 
War II. As a result of investigation it was confirmed by a second 
informant that this Eussian airborne operation actually took place 
at Kremenchug, but no further particulars could be procured. 

Although this Russian airborne operation disclosed no new im- 
portant experience in opposing airborne attacks, it seems appropriate 
to mention it if only for its singularity. Its complete failure may be 
a further reason, in addition to those mentioned above, for the ab- 
sence of other large-scale Russian airborne operations in the course 
of the war. The impression prevails that tactically and technically 
the Russians could not meet the requirements of such an enterprise. 
Further reasons may be that the Eussian soldier as a rule is not a good 
individual fighter but prefers to fight in mass formations, and that the 
junior Eussian commanders lacked initiative and aggressiveness, two 
qualities that are basic requirements in a parachute officer. 

The main effort of the Eussian paratroopers during the war was"^ 
without doubt in partisan warfare, an old method of combat that 
has always been favored by the Eussians. In this field parachuting 
was widely exploited. However, this is a special subject having 
nothing to do with tactical airborne operations, and is therefore out- 
side the province of this study. 



In spite of rockets and atom bombs, it is still the possession of the 
land, the conquest of enemy territory, that will decide the issue in a 
war. The possession of the land is the visible sign of victory, and 
its occupation is a guarantee of the exercise of complete control. The 
occupying power definitely deprives the enemy of all chances of ex- 
ploiting the territory with regard to natural resources, raw materials, 
industries, population, air bases, etc., while the occupier is able to 
utilize these for his own benefit and in the end force the enemy to 
surrender. The prerequisite, however, for the capture, the occupa- 
tion, and the holding of a territory is the elimination of the enemy 
fighting forces which can defend the country and dispute its possession. 

For a long time the most effective means of eliminating the enemy 
fighting forces seemed to be the method of envelopment, which is 
stressed particularly in the German theory of the art of war. An 
envelopment is directed at the enemy's weakest spot and cuts him 
off from his rear communications. During World War I the increas- 
ing effectiveness of weapons and the expansion of armies lessened the 
chances for large-scale envelopments and led to extended front lines 
with flanks anchored on impregnable points. The tactics of envelop- 
ment were replaced by the break-through, which during World War II 
was the objective of the mobile and combat-efficient panzer formations. 

Airborne operations, carried out for the first time during World 
War II, point to a new trend. An air landing behind the enemy front 
is, after all, nothing but an envelopment by air, an envelopment ex- 
ecuted in the third dimension. Herein lies its significance and an 
indication of the role it will play in future wars. 

World War II has shown that airborne operations are practicable; 
furthermore, the results have proved that air landings are not one-time 
measures which owe their effectiveness exclusively to the element of 
surprise and then can no longer be applied. On the contrary, the 
events of World War II have demonstrated that it is extremely diffi- 
cult for a defender to prevent or render ineffectual any airborne 
opierations which are carried out with superior forces. 




The airborne operations carried out during World War II still 
represent in every respect purely tactical measures taken in closest 
co-operaion with the ground forces. Strategic concepts rarely en- 
tered into the picture. Even the capture of an island represented an 
individual action of strictly limited scope. 

The continued technical improvement of all types of aircraft since 
the end of the war with regard to speed, range, and carrying capacity 
makes it appear quite possible that the scope of airborne operations 
will also increase in proportion to the number of forces and weapons 
which can be employed. Even today, it is probably no longer Utopian 
to think of air landings as large-scale envelopments or even, beyond 
that, as outflanking movements in the third dimension, which will no 
longer merely aim at attacking the enemy's position from the rear, but 
will force him to relinquish his position in order to form an inverted 
front against the attacking forces that have landed far behind his lines. 

For the most part, such considerations are limited by technical 
factors. This study cannot determine what these limitations are and 
how they apply to the present or the future, if only for the reason 
that the author lacks the necessary technical information. Besides, at 
the present rapid rate of technical progress, today's daydreams may be 
accomplished facts by tomorrow. This report, therefore, merely rep- 
resents an analysis of some of the problems involved in airborne 
operations and a general evaluation of the resulting possibilities. 


First of all, it should be remembered that airborne operations are 
governed by the same strategic and tactical principles that apply to 
any envelopment or flanking movement. A correct evaluation of the 
terrain and the time element, the ratio of friendly and enemy forces 
as well as the proper depth of attack in proportion to the available 
troops, the concentration of forces in a main effort and arrangements 
for containing the enemy at other points, the elements of surprise and 
deception — all have to be weighed and taken into account just as 
carefully as in ground operations. Consequently, they do not have 
to be discussed in further detail at this point. 

The new element in airborne operations is the peculiarity of the ap- 
proach via the third dimension, that is, by air. The accompanying 
difficulties as well as advantages should therefore be analyzed with 
particular care and must be taken into account in an evaluation of the 
above-mentioned factors. 

In the main, this new method of attack by air gives rise to the fol- 
lowing difficulties: 

1. The forces employed for air landings are highly vulnerable while 
they are on the approach route. This necessitates control of the air 



along the entire route, from the take-off points up to and including 
the landing area. Apart from other factors, the geographic limits 
of the area in which the attacker enjoys air supremacy determine the 
depth of a large-scale airborne operation. 

2. An air landing, more so than any operation on the ground, is a 
thrust into unknown territory. The conventional means of recon- 
naissance and sources of information offer inadequate results and 
require a great deal of time. From the moment the airborne troops 
land, they face surprises against which they are not protected by ad- 
vance reconnaissance and security measures and from which they are 
no longer able to escape. Consequently, every airborne operation in- 
volves a greater risk than ordinary ground combat, requires more time 
for preparation, and entails a distinct moment of weakness during the 
first phase of landing. 

3. After the initial landing the fighting strength and mobility of air- 
borne forces depend on their chances for resupply by air. It will-no 
doubt be possible to improve the purely technical facilities available 
for this purpose. In this respect the military planners need not be 
afraid of asking too much from the men who are responsible for 
research and development. The really decisive factor is whether the 
military situation in the air permits the air transport of supplies. 
Just how far the attacker's air supremacy can be extended, not only 
in space but also in time, is a fundamentally important question. An- 
other vital consideration is the time interval until contact with 
friendly ground troops can and must be established. The proper' 
evaluation of these possibilities will always be the determining factor 
for the extent and scope of airborne operations and hence for the selec- 
tion of suitable objectives as well. These difficulties are not insur- 
mountable. They will be overcome by technical progress, organiza- 
tion and training of the forces, and proper tactical and strategic 
commitment, always of course within reasonable limits and with the 
necessary prerequisites. 

4. However, there is one unalterable diflSculty — ^the inflexibility of 
an airborne operation at the time of execution. Once the plan has 
been decided upon and the operation has been set into motion, the 
entire action necessarily has to unfold according to schedule. The 
only control the high command can still exercise is through the com- 
mitment of its reserves. The initiative exercised by intermediate 
and lower echelons, which in ordinary ground combat assures flex- 
ibility of adjustment to the existing situation and which in the Ger- 
man Army was particularly stressed as a vital combat requirement, 
is largely eliminated during airborne operations. It cannot begin 
to take effect until an attack is launched from the captured airhead. 
Only in part can these deficiencies be offset by careful and detailed 



preparations, which take time, and by committing even greater quan- 
tities of troops and materiel, which again proves that airborne war- 
fare is a "rich man's" weapon. 

[Field Marshal Kesselring's comments on the inflexibility of air- 
borne operations : 

I do not agree that airborne operations are absolutely tied to 
a fixed schedule and are therefore too rigid in their execution. 
Naturally, an airborne operation executed according to plan will 
be assured the greatest probability of success. Should the situa- 
tion require a sweeping change in plans, however, this can be car- 
ried out by signal communications from ground to air and between 
the flying formations. This will require the preparation of alter- 
nate plans and intensive training of the units. Formations on the 
approach flight can be recalled or caii be ordered to land at pre- 
viously designated alternate fields. This is less complicated in the 
case of later serials. In my opinion such changes can be carried 
out more easily in the air than on the ground. In land warfare, 
once large formations are committed in a certain direction toward 
a definite objective, major and minor changes involve equal diffi- 
culties. There is no reason why this should be any diflEerent in an 
airborne operation.] 


Despite the cdst in men and materiel, airborne operations offer such 
outstanding advantages that no future belligerent with the necessary 
means at his disposal can be expected to forego using this combat 
method. The following are the main advantages : 

1. The airborne operation makes it possible for the attacker to 
carry out a vertical envelopment or to outflank front lines or lines 
with protected flanks ; it also enables him to surmount terrain ob- 
stacles which interfere with the movements of ground troops, such 
as wide rivers, channels, mountains, and deserts. 

2. The airborne operation can be launched from the depth of the 
attacker's zone. It develops with extraordinary speed and offers re- 
markable opportunities for surprise attacks, with regard to* time 
a.nd place, and thus forestalls any countermeasures by the enemy. 

3. The psychological eflEect of vertical envelopment is considerably 
greater than that produced by horizontal envelopment. It can affect 
the enemy command and troops solely by reason of its menace — ^the 
uncertainty of when and where an air landing might take place. 
The consequent effect on the population of the country, either posi- 
tive or negative as the case may be, should also not be underestimated. 




An anned force desiring to overcome the difficulties which arise 
from the use of airborne operations and seeking to make the most of 
the advantages offered by such operations should, in consideration of 
the statements made so far, arrive at the following conclusions : 

1. The attacker's air force should be so strong that even at the begin- 
ning of the war it will either be wholly superior to the enemy, or, in 
fighting the enemy air force, will seriously weaken that force and 
thus pave the way for mastery of the air with regard to time and 

2. It is necessary to have available a highly qualified specialized 
force for the execution of airborne operations. Air landings require 
tough fighters eager for action, an intensive and diversified training, 
the best kind of equipment, and ample air-transport space. It is 
advisable to recruit this specialized force from volunteers. Men who 
have been taken from the militia or conscript army and have received 
only brief training, might require an extended tour of active duty. 
Above all, however, this force should be activated in peacetime, not 
in cadres only but in full strength, since such a specialized force 
cannot be organized quickly. These requirements again demonstrate 
that airborne operations will always be something which only the 
"rich man" can afford. 

3. Any planning for airborne operations on a large scale should 
include preparations for the movement by air of large ground units 
(divisions) to permit the prompt reinforcement of airborne troops 
after their initial landing. The necessary adjustments with regard 
to equipment and organization must he carefully considered and 
applied, and specialized gear must be at hand. 

4. It should be realized that an airborne operation is as rapid in its 
execution as it is time consuming in its preparation and affords neither 
much freedom of maneuver nor a great deal of flexibility ; it must be 
prepared well in advance. Once it has been set into motion, its 
direction and objective can no longer be changed. Even in peace- 
time it is therefore necessary to draw up blueprints for certain con- 
ceivable airborne operations, blueprints which are to be carefully 
modified on the basis of current information obtained in the course 
of actual hostilities. If this work has been done, the time required for 
preparation in each individual case can be considerably reduced. Only 
through foresiglited preparatory work covering several likely situa- 
tions is it at all possible to achieve a limited degree of flexibility in 
the execution of airborne operations. 

5. Finally, it should also be mentioned that air landings, even more 
than any other operations, are dependent on the weather. The more 
territory an airborne operation is supposed to cover, the greater will 



be the need for a long-range weather forecast system, which even 
during peacetime will have to be set up with an eye to functioning 
under such wartime limitations as the absence of weather data from 
enemy countries. 


With regard to defense measures against airborne operations, the 
following conclusions may be drawn from this study : 

1. The best method of defense is and always will be a strong air 

2. The next requirement is a well-organized observation (radar) 
and warning system; it is essential to succeed in setting up this 
network quickly, even in a war of movement, and to adapt it to the 
fluctuating situations. 

3. Local defense measures and preparations for all-around defense 
are increasingly important for rear elements. In addition, it Avill be 
necessary to establish clearly who, in the rear areas, will be in com- 
mand of all forces which have to be committed in case of enemy air 
landings, and who will be responsible for making the necessary 
arrangements to this effect. 

4. In an era of constantly growing possibilities for operations far 
behind the front lines, the need for prompt and forceful action against 
hostile air landings will eventually force any belligerent to scatter 
his strategic reserves over the whole of his communications zone, and 
even parts of the zone of the interior ; he may also be compelled to 
hold large forces in readiness for the express purpose of defending 
his rear areas against long-range enemy airborne operations. 


Future wars will offer far-reaching possibilities for the employment 
of airborne operations. The selection and scope of the objectives will 
always depend on the available forces (air force, airborne troops) 
and consequently will be a question of war potential But the em- 
ployment of airborne operations as a weapon in future wars also will 
depend on an early decision to make use of it, because air landings 
cannot be improvised, either in obtaining the necessary forces or in 
the technical aspects of the operation itself • 

At the beginning of World War II, the strategic employment of 
armor completely changed the concepts of warfare carried over from 
World War I ; it is quite conceivable that, at the beginning of a future 
war, the employment of large airborne units will play a similar role. 




During the war, the weapons and equipment of German parachute 
troops did not differ essentially from those of the infantry. The 
paratroop automatic rifle, which used standard ammunition, was the 
only special type of small arms developed. It was adopted because 
the automatic rifle of the infantry did not use standard ammunition. 
In any paratroop operation the most harassing problem was the 
method of carrying ammunition. Since the rifle was attached to the 
man while jumping, the weapons containers, most of which after 
1942 were transportable, became available for carrying ammunition. 
In 1944 a so-called ammunition vest for each man was introduced in 
some parachute units and proved successful. 

Immediately after the Crete operation the paratroops had requested 
the construction of special midget tanks {LUlifwtf<mzer) , which 
could be carried along on airborne operations, as well as spe- 
cial light weight portable antitank guns. Experiments were begun 
in 1942 on a two-man tank which could be transported in a large 
troop-carrying glider and which because of its shape was called 
a "turtle." Because of difficulties in the armament production pro- 
gram, the experiments were discontinued toward the end of 1942 
before it was possible to form a definite opinion on the usefulness of 
the model. In any case, it seems to have met the Army's three require- 
ments of low silhouette, high speed, and great cross-country mobility 
as fully as possible. 

In 1942 the paratroops were given a 48-mm./42-mm. antitank gun 
with tapered bore and solid projectile as a special weapon for anti- 
tank fighting instead of the impractical 37 -mm. antitank gun, which 
was difficult to transport. The gun did not prove especially success- 
ful in Africa against the heavy British tanks and its production was 
discontinued in 1943. At the same time the so-called Panservmrfmine 
(magnetic antitank hand grenade) was introduced as a special weapon 
for fighting tanks at close range, but it was soon replaced by the 
Panserfaust (recoilless antitank grenade and launcher, both expend- 

*By Col. Frelherr Ton der Heydte. 




able). In autumn 1944 the German engineer Schardien was work- 
ing on a new close-range antitank device for airborne use which would 
have been easier to transport than the Paiizerfmist; he was probably 
unable to complete his experiments. 

Some of the paratroop units used the so-called Einstoss-flammen- 
v^erfer (one-thrust flame thrower) of the SS, which was considerably 
better adapted to paratroop use than the Army flame thrower. 

The greatest headache for the German paratroop command was 
the lack of artillery in support of infantry fighting. The German 
paratroops were equipped with the excellent 75-mm. and 105-mm. 
airborne recoilless guns; both had short barrels and carriages made of 
light metal alloy. In suitable terrain the 75-mm. gun could be easily 
drawn by two men, and its elevation was the same as that of the 
37-mm. antitank gun of the Army. The maximum range was 3,850 
yards for the 75-mm. gun and 9,000 yards for the 105-mm. gun. Both 
had the following disadvantages : 

a. A large amount of smoke and fumes was generated, and the 
flash toward the rear was visible at night for a great distance. 

6. They could be used only as flat-trajectory weapons. Attempts 
to use the airborne recoilless guns as high-angle weapons were not 
satisfactory. Moreover, in an airborne operation it was seldom pos- 
sible to carry along the necessary amount of ammunition or have it 
brought up later. Thus, as a rule, only important point targets could 
be attacked with single rounds, generally from an exposed fighting 

Besides these weapons, 150-mm. rocket projectiles were used in the 
Crete operation. They were fired from wooden carrying crates, 
which also served as aerial delivery containers. These rockets did 
not prove successful ; because of their high degree of dispersion they 
were suitable only for use against area targets and in salvo fire. How- 
ever, the quantity of projectiles needed for such a purpose could not 
be transported on an airborne operation, and a Ju-52 (German troop 
carrier) could cari-y and drop only four projectiles at a time. 

The parachute troops were generally forced to rely on Army sig- 
nal equipment which, to be sure, was available to them in far greater 
quantities than it was to any other units. The "Dora" and "Fried- 
rich" radio sets proved very successful in German air landing opera- 
tions. Ever since 1942 the troops had repeatedly requested in addi- 
tion a small, portable short-range radio set for communicating 
between companies, but no such set was introduced. Several units, 
therefore, made use of captured American equipment. For the pro- 
jected Malta operation of one parachute battalion, the engineering 
firm of Siemens-Halske supplied a portable radio set for maintaining 
contact with the base. It had a definite range of 180 miles, could be 



operated without interruption for six hours, and could easily be car- 
ried by one man. 

Carrier pigeons and messenger dogs proved very successful in air- 
borne operations; the former for communicating with the base, the 
latter for communication within the company or from company to 
battalion. The dogs, equipped with a parachute that was automa- 
tically disconnected from the harness after landing, generally jumped 
very willingly and without accidents. In 1942 a signal cartridge, 
protected against misuse by the enemy by a special contrivance, was 
introduced on an experimental basis. However, the experiment was 
very soon discontinued. 



In Holland in 1940, the Germans came to realize the disadvantage 
of the parachute commander's inability to exercise any direct author- 
ity over the troop-carrier units ; the two were co-ordinated, but neither 
was subordinate to the other. Consequently, before carrying out the 
Crete operation the troop-carrier units were incorporated into the 
parachute corps, of which they constituted an integral part under a 
special Luftwaffe officer [Flieger fuehrer). This arrangement did 
not last long. The operations in Russia and North Africa required 
the concentration of all air transport services directly under the 
commander in chief of the Luftwaffe to assure the prompt execution 
of any air transport operations which might become necessary, and 
only in the rarest cases did this involve carrying paratroops. As a 
result the training of troop-carrier units was also reorganized. The 
pilots were then trained to fly in "main bodies" (Pulk) or in a "stream 
of bombers" (Bomherstrom) , that is, in irregular formations which 
were always three dimensional. However, it is impossible to drop 
parachutists from the Pulk or Bomberstrom formations; dropping 
parachutists requires a regular flight in formation at a uniform alti- 
tude, that is, a two-dimensional flight. The close flight order of the 
conventional heavy bomber formation, with its effective cross fire 
on all sides, is desirable for approach flights across hostile territory. 
It provides defense against enemy fighter planes and can be main- 
tained until shortly before the parachute or airplane landings. If 
there is a probability of strong antiaircraft fire, the plane-to-plane 
and group-to-group spacing will have to be increased. For such tac- 
tics, intensive training of the troop-carrier pilots will bei necessary, 
especially in the proper deployment preparatory to parachute drops. 

Losses during the attack on Leros in the autumn of 1943 are said 
to have occurred mainly because the troop carriers did not fly in 
regular formation and at the same altitude ; during the air landing 



in the Ardennes in December 1944 it proved a fatal mistake that the 
troop-carrier units were no longer accustomed to flying in regular 
formation. The experience gained both at Leros and in the Ardennes 
has shown that it is essential for a troop-carrier unit which is to drop 
parachutists to be trained to do this work, since a good part of the 
success of an airborne operation depends on flying in regular close 
formation at the same altitude. It is obvious that the necessary train- 
ing in formation flying is best achieved if the troop-carrier units are 
subordinated to the command of airborne troops from the very first. 
Up to the end of the war the German paratroop command continued 
to demand that it be given permanent control over the troop-carrier 
units, but this demand remained unfulfilled. That the troop-carrier 
units must be subordinate to the airborne conmiand at least for the 
duration of an operation is clear to everyone. The fallacy of letting 
Jionspecialists make decisions in such matters was demonstrated in 
the less than brilliant direction of the Leros operation by a naval 
oflicer (the Commanding Admiral, Aegean). Likewise the Ardennes 
operation, which was prepared by an Air officer (the Air Force Com- 
mander, West) , and carried out by an Army officer (the Commanding 
General, Sixth SS Panzer Army) ; one knew as little about an airborne 
operation and its difficulties as did the other. 

Although the problem of co-operation between the airborne com- 
mand and the command of the troop-carrier units was solved at least 
temporarily during the Crete operation, the co-operation, or lack of 
it, between the individual airborne unit and the individual troop- 
carrier squadron continued to be the greatest cause of complaint by 
the airborne troops during the entire war. At best, the individual 
airborne battalion commander became personally acquainted with the 
commander of the transport group which flew his battalion only 2 
or 3 days before the operation ; as a rule, the individual soldier did 
not establish any contact with the flying crew of the machine which 
had to transport him. There was no mutual understanding of pe- 
culiarities, capabilities, and shortcomings. The 2d Battalion of the 
1st Paratroop Regiment was almost completely annihilated in Crete 
because the battalion commander of the airborne troops greatly over- 
estimated the flying ability of the troop-carrier unit which was to 
carry his men, whereas the commander of the troop-carrier force, 
on the other hand, did not understand the extremely elaborate plan 
of attack of the airborne commander, who was a complete stranger 
to him. In former times one would not require a cavalry regiment 
to carry out an attack when its men had only been given a short 
course in riding but had not been issued any horses until the night 
befoire the attack. 

Next to the pilot, the most important man in the flying crew was 
the airborne combat observer, or, as the troops called him, the jump- 



master (Absetser) , that is, the man who gave the signal to jump. The 
jumpmaster should be an extremely weU-trained observer and 
bombardier. In the German airborne forces he was just the opposite. 
The jumpmasters were not taken from the flying personnel of the 
Luftwaffe but from the airborne troops ; from time to time, the various 
parachute units had to release one or two men for training as jump^ 
masters, and with the inherent selfishness of any unit they naturally 
did not release their best men but rather their worst, who for some 
reason or other could no longer be used as paratroopers. If this 
reason was a combat injury, the men might still have served their 
purpose, but more often than not the reason was lack of personal 
courage or intelligence. The jumpmasters selected in this negative 
manner were trained at a jumpmasters' school by instructors who 
had been detailed from the flying personnel of the Luftwaffe. The 
Luftwaffe did not release its best instructors for this purpose. After 
this deficient training the jumpmaster waited in some troop-carrier 
unit, like the fifth wheel on a wagon, until he was needed for an air- 
borne operation, meanwhile forgetting what little he had learned at 
the school. For, like bombing or firing a weapon, dropping paratroops 
is a matter of practice, of constant uninterrupted practice. The Ger- 
man jumpmasters were completely lacking in this practice. In almost 
every airborne operation the consequences were disastrous. During 
the Crete operation at least one platoon of each battalion was landed 
incorrectly; at Maleme entire companies were dropped into the sea 
because the jumpmasters — out of fear, as the paratroopers afterwards 
claimed — ^had given the signal too early; during the Ardennes opera- 
tion one company was dropped on the Rhine north of Bonn instead 
of south of Eupen, and the majority of the signal platoon of that 
company was dropped south of Monschau directly in front of the 
German lines. 

Only on two occasions, the operation near Eben Emael in 1940 
and the projected operation of dive-gliders against Malta in 1942, 
were paratroopers and troop-carrier units brought together for orien- 
tation and joint training for a considerable period prior to the opera- 
tions. In both cases co-operation was excellent. 


The German airborne forces carried out two kinds of airborne land- 
ings — ^the parachute operation and the troop-carrying glider opera- 
tion. After 1942, as a general principle, the parachute troops were 
trained in both kinds of airborne landings so that such units could be 
used at any time either in parachute or in glider operations, according 
to the tactical and terrain requirements. 



The Ju-52 and He-Ill were available as troop-carrier planes. From 
the Ju-52 the jump was made through the door, from the He-Ill 
through a jump hatch. Jumping from the door proved more suc- 
cessful since the men were more willing to jump out of the door than 
through the hatch in the floor of the plane and because the landings 
were effected at considerably smaller time intervals. In a well- 
trained unit 13 men could leave the plane in not more than eight 
seconds. With the planes moving at a speed of 100 to 120 miles per 
hour and at an altitude of about 330 feet (100 meters), there would 
be a distance of about 25 yards between men immediately after land- 
ing ; that is, the group reached the ground in a fairly compact forma- 
tion and could be immediately assembled by the unit commander if 
the terrain offered a reasonable degree of visibility. 

The jumping altitude was generally a little more than 330 feet. 
As commander of the instruction battalion, the author carried out 
tests at lower jump altitudes; at a jump altitude of 200 feet, the lowest 
that was reached, casualties through jumping injuries rose to an 
average of 20 percent. As soon as the jumping altitude was raised 
much in excess of 330 feet, the ground dispersion of the group in- 
creased. According to experience gained in the instruction battalion, 
a jumping altitude of about 670 feet resulted in an average dispersion 
of a group of 13 men amounting to 900 yards in depth and over 200 
yards in width, about twice the average dispersion attained with 
a jumping altitude of 330 feet. 

Jump casualties as well as dispersion depended largely on the 
velocity of surface wind, the determining of which was, or should 
have been, one of the most important special tasks of the combat recon- 
naissance directly preceding any landing operation. In general, Ger- 
man paratroops were only able to jump with a surface wind not over 
14 miles per hour. Operations with a surface wind of greater velocity 
resulted in many jump casualties and often delayed the assembly of 
the landed troops for hours. The relatively large losses from jump 
casualties during the airborne operation against the island of Leros 
in the autumn of 1943 must be attributed entirely to the high surface 
wind. During the airborne operation in the Ardennes in December 
1944 a surface wind of 36 miles per hour caused heavy casualties. Of 
the elements of one airborne unit which could still be assembled after 
the jump, more than 10 percent were injured in jumping, which did 
not, however, prevent most of them from taking part in the fighting a 
few hours later. 

The German parachute fell short of requirements. It caused an 
excessive swinging motion in gusty weather, it was hard to control, 
and too much time was required to get out of the harness. Too much 
importance was probably attached to safety in jumping and too little 
to suitability for combat operations. The casualties which were sus- 



tained from enemy action because the soldier was unable to free him- 
self from his harness quickly enough were far greater than the casual- 
ties which might have been caused by carelessness in opening the single- 
fastening harness release in the air. During the Ardennes operation 
I myself made an experimental jump with a captured Russian tri- 
angular parachute which despite strong gusts and a surface wind of 
36 miles per hour brought me to earth with almost no oscillation. At 
the time, I still had my left arm in a temporary splint. In that wind 
it would have been impossible to jump with a German parachute when 
one's arm was in a splint. 

Too much importance was attached to the rigging of parachutes; 
valuable training time and time prior to an operation was lost be- 
cause every man had to rig his own parachute. In my regiment I 
made the experiment of introducing a parachute maintenance platoon 
which rigged the parachutes for the entire regiment. The results were 
very good. Jumping experiments with unrigged parachutes have 
shown that in an emergency it is sufficient to make two air-resistance 
folds {Luftschlagfalten) and that much of the complicated packing 
procedure was mere fussiness. 

Since heavy casualties had been sustained in Crete because the para- 
troopers could not reach their weapon containers or because they had 
to leave cover in order to unpack the containers, after 1942 regular 
training was given in jumping with the weapons attached to the sol- 
dier. This proved very successful. The soldier carried any one of 
the following items on his person : pistol, submachine gun, rifle, light' 
machine gun, boxes of ammunition for machine guns and medium 
mortars, machine gun carriage, or short intrenching tool. In addi- 
tion, each of the following items of equipment was dropped success- 
fully by auxiliary parachute attached to a soldier: medium mortar 
barrel, medium mortar base plate, and "Dora" and "Friedrich" radio 

At first the German airborne troops placed too much emphasis on 
the nature of the terrain at the drop point. Practical experiences dur- 
ing the war showed that well-trained troops can make combat jumps 
anywhere, except in terrain without cover where enemy fire is likely 
to iengage the paratroops immediately after landing. Moreover, rocky 
terrain is particularly unfavorable. A landing in woods presents no 
difficulties in jumping technique, although it makes assembly very 
difficult after the jump. During training, German paratroopers fre- 
quently jumped into wooded areas, but in combat only once — ^in the 
Ardennes operation in 1944. It is also possible to land among groups 
of houses, that is, on roofs. Of course, this requires special training 
and equipment. The paratrooper must be able to cling to the roof 
with the aid of grappling hooiks and quickly cut an opening in the roof 
so that he can make his way into the house. 



Regular training in night jumping first began in 1942 and soon pro- 
duced good results. After 1943 the requirements for the award of 
the paratrooper's insignia after the completion of training included 
at least one jump at night. In combat, night jumps were made by 
the Germans on only one occasion, during the Ardennes operation. 
Night jumping presented two main difficulties — ^locating the drop 
point, and establishing contact after jumping. For locating the drop 
point which had to be reached accurately by every airplane within a 
few hundred yards, the radio-control procedure customary in night 
bombing operations was not satisfactory since it was too inaccurate 
and led to many errors. In practice, therefore, the Germans made 
use of two other procedures to supplement rather than replace radio 
control : a technical radio device, the so-called radio buoy (Funkboje) 
and the incendiary-bomb field (Brandionibenfeld). The radio buoy 
was a shockproof , short-range radio transmitter packed in an aerial 
delivery container, which was released over the drop zone by a path- 
finder plane flying ahead of the troop-carrier unit and then auto- 
matically gave each troop carrier the signal for dropping as soon as 
the aircraft had flown to within a certain area. The experiments with 
the radio buoy, which were carried out after 1943, had not yet been 
concluded to complete satisfaction by the end of the war. Therefore, 
during the' Ardennes operation the author made use of the simpler 
method, the incendiary-bomb field. Two fields of incendiary bombs 
were laid out on the ground about one mile apart by a pathfinder plane 
of the troop-carrier unit, and the landing unit was to be dropped 
halfway between these two incendiary-bomb fields. This was not suc- 
cessful in the Ardennes operation, not because of any defects in the 
procedure but rather because of the strong American ground defenses 
and the unbelievably bad training of the flying personnel of the two 
troop-carrier units engaged in the mission. Co-operation with path- 
finders in night jumping requires the most accurate timing. Because 
of incorrect wind data, the pathfinders in the Ardennes operation ar- 
rived at the drop zone almost a quarter of an hour too early. In this 
way not only was the American air defense warned in advance, but 
the last transport planes were no longer guided and had to drop their 
men blindly. 

In order to establish contact on the ground after a night jump the 
Germans generally used acoustical signals, such as bird calls and 
croaking of frogs, in preference to optical communication. Eadio was 
used only to establish contact between company and company and 
between company and battalion. In the summer of 1942 experiments 
were made with jumps in bad weather and in fog, but without satis- 
factory results. 

The Germans distinguished between two kinds of operation with 
troop-carrying gliders — ^gliding flight and diving flight. Grreat re- 



salts were expected of the latter in particular. The same craft were 
used for both operations, either the small DFS which could carry 10 
men with light equipment or the larger Go, a glider with a double 
tail assembly which could carry a load equivalent to one German 
75-mm. antitank gun, including a two-man gun crew. The type of tow 
plane and method of towing were the same for both kinds of operation. 
The He-Ill was mostly used as a towing aircraft. The Ju-87 was 
best adapted for diving operations. In general, the cable tow was 
used to pull gliders ; experiments with the rigid tow produced debat- 
able results. 

German gliders were specially equipped for diving operations. A 
"ribbon" parachute was provided as a diving brake. This consisted 
of several strips between which the air could pass. The glider pilot 
released this parachute by hand the moment the craft tipped down- 
ward. The take-off wheels were thrown off after the start, and the 
glider landed on a broad runner wrapped with barbed wire to increase 
the braking effect. This runner was directly behind the center of 
gravity of the glider. On some gliders designed for special types of 
operation there was a strong barbed hook, similar to an anchor, which 
dug into the ground during the landing. Finally, certain gliders were 
also provided with a braking rocket in the nose which could be auto- 
matically or manually ignited at the moment of landing and gave the 
landing machine a strong backward thrust. In some experiments a 
glider thus equipped was brought to a halt on a landing strip only 36 
yards long. 

An approach altitude of about 13,000 feet seemed particularly favor- 
able for diving operations. The glider was released 20 miles before 
the objective and reached the diving point in a gliding flight. As a 
rule, the diving angle was 70° to 80°, the diving speed around 125 miles 
per hour, the altitude at which the pilot had to pull out of the dive 
about 800 feet. In diving, the glider could elude strong ground de- 
fense by spinning for a short time or by frequently changing its 
diving angle, diving by steps (Treppensturz) as it was called. In 
training pilots for diving operations the greatest difficulty was ex- 
perienced in teaching them to make an accurate spot landing, in which 
under certain circumstances even a few yards might be important, 
and to recognize the right moment for pulling out of the dive. To my 
knowledge, it was only once that the possibilities offered by dive-gliders 
were put to use in combat. In 1943 seven 75-mm. antitank guns were 
dropped into the citadel of Velikie Luki, which was surrounded by 
the Russians, by using Go's as dive-gliders. In connection with the 
projected paratroop operation against Malta in 1942, six hours before 
the parachute jump, a battalion under my command was supposed 
to land by means of dive-gliders among the British antiaircraft 
positions on the south coast of the island and to eliminate the British 



ground defense. Over a period of months the Malta operation was 
prepared down to the smallest detail, and during that time the para- 
chute troops practiced on mock-ups of these positions. 

Toward the end of the war the German airborne forces clearly de- 
fined three methods of attacking an objective : 
. 1. Jumpiing or landing on top of the objective; 

2. Jumping or landing near the objective; 

3. Jumping or landing at a distance from the objective. 
According to German views, jumping or landing on top of the ob- 
jective is the method primarily suited for attacking an objective 
which is relatively small and specially fortified against a ground 
attack. The Germans considered the troop-carrying dive-glider best 
suited for such an operation. Examples of landing on top of the 
objective are the capture of Fort Eben Emael north of Lifege in 1940, 
the unsuccessful attack by elements of the airborne assault regiment 
{Sturmregiment) in gliders against British antiaircraft positions near 
Khania on the island of Crete, and the jump by my combat group at 
the crossroads north of Mont Rigi, in the Eif el Mountains of western 

Jumping near the objective is the preferred method used for the 
capture of a bridge or an airfield. Here the general rule is that the 
men jump toward the objective from all sides, so that the target to 
be attacked lies, so to speak, in the center of a bell-shaped formation 
of descending troopers. Examples of jumping near the objective are 
the capture of the Moordijk bridges in 1940, the capture of the Waal- 
hafen airfield near Rotterdam in 1940, and the capture of the Maleme 
airfield in Crete in 1941. While, in spite of the bravest fighting, the 
British did not succeed in capturing the Arnhem bridge from the air 
in 1944, this was probably in large part because they did not jump 
near their objective but at a considerable distance from it. 

According to German views, jumping at a distance from the ob- 
jective should be resorted to chiefly when the objective is so large 
that it can only be reduced by slow, systematic infantry attack ; inch 
by inch, so to speak. Whereas in jumping near the objective it is a 
basic rule that the attack must be made from several sides, in jumping 
at a distance from the objective the attack on the groun<i must be 
launched on a deep, narrow front from one direction. An example 
of this method was presented in the attack by the 3d Parachute Eegi- 
ment against the city of Khania on the island of Crete in 1941. To 
be sure, it is doubtful whether such an operation would today be 
carried out in the same manner. Since it has been determined that 
it is possible for paratroopers to attack buildings from the air, the 
best method of attack for the purpose of capturing a village might 
be a combination of jumping on top of the objective and jumping near 
the objective rather than the procedure used in Crete in 1941 ; evidently 



the easiest way to capture a village should be from within. To date, 
of course, no practical experiences are available on this subject. 

As a result of their experiences the Germans distinguished between 
two ways of dropping a parachute force: landing all elements of a 
unit in the same area ; landing all elements of a unit at the same time. 

To accomplish the landing of all elements in the same area, the 
troop carriers approach the drop zone in a deep, narrow formation 
and all paratroopers jump into the same small area. ¥ot a battalion 
of 600 men, a landing area measuring about 900 yards in diameter and 
a landing time of about 30 minutes will be normal. According to 
German experience, this method of landing a unit is to be used espe- 
cially at night, in jumping into woods or a village or other areas with 
low visibility, as well as in jumping at a distance from the objective. 
It was, for example, the mistake of the 3d Battalion of the 3d Para- 
chute Regiment in Crete that it failed to choose this type of landing. 
Its heavy casualties can in part be attributed to this fact. 

If all elements of a unit are to be landed at the same time, the troop 
carriers make their approach in wide formation to various drop zones 
situated close to each other and all paratroopers jump, as nearly as 
possible, at the same time. In such an operation, the landing area 
for a battalion of 600 men Avill usually measure at least 2,000 yards in 
diameter, with a landing time of less than 15 minutes. According to 
German experience, this method of landing a unit is to be especially 
recommended when jumping into terrain which oifers little cover, as 
well as when jumping near the objective. In Crete, the 2d Battalion, 
of the 1st Parachute Regiment made the mistake of landing at a 
number of widely separated small drop points at very long time inter- 
vals. As a result of the delay, the battalion was almost completely 
wiped out. It can be stated as a general rule that the larger the 
landing area, the less time should be spent in the dropping operation. 
Anyone who is careless with respect to time and space will be 

[Field Marshall Kesselring's comments on the three methods of 
attacking an objective (see page 54) : 

First method. — ^Airborne landings into an area which is strongly 
defended against air attack can succeed only when there is absolute 
surprise. To be sure, the effect of weapons against parachutes in 
the air is generally overestimated. However, every landing harbors 
within itself a pronounced element of weakness which increases 
while troops are under the defensive fire of the enemy and which 
may lead to disaster during the very first moments of ground com- 
bat. The examples of Arnhem (1944) and Sicily (1943) speak 
only too eloquently for this; such examples will occur again and 
again. The attack against Fort Eben Emael can be considered as , 
an example to the contrary. The study of this attack will enable 



one to recogiii^;e hiie possibilities and limitations of such operations. 

Second method. — The prerequisites for a landing near the objec- 
tive are correctly described. Such landings, however, should be 
planned so that they are not subject to the disadvantages which 
occur when jumping directly into the objective. When one has to 
reckon with strong antiaircraft defenses, a success costing few cas- 
ualties can generally be achieved only through surprise. Gliders 
are superior to parachutists because of their soundless approach. 

Third method. — In large-scale operations it will be the rule to 
jump at a point some distance away from the objective. One 
should not belittle the advantage of landing, assembling, and or- 
ganizing troops in an area which is out of danger ! The factor of 
surprise is still retained to a greater or lesser extent according to 
the time of day or night, the weather conditions, and the terrain. 
A combination of landings into and near the objective may be ad- 
visable or necessary for tactical reasons or for deception, in order 
to scatter the enemy fire. The same purpose may be achieved by 
launching diversionary attacks when landing at some distance.] 

* U.S. GOVEBNMENT PRINTING OFFICE : 1985 O - 461-421 (20542)